LENOX — “We’re not going to make decisions based on ‘majority rules.’ ”
That was the message from schools Superintendent Marc J. Gosselin Jr. on Monday night, during a School Committee discussion about back-to-school COVID protocols.
While public input needs to be considered, he said, that will be only part of the larger picture.
Gosselin was responding to School Committee member Oren Cass, who expressed concern that decisions about COVID safety policies “are being driven by how many parents are calling and fill up email boxes.”
Cass cited a recent survey of school district parents showing that physical-distancing protocols were a low-priority option. He urged a continuing focus on official public health evidence. He also suggested that any optimism that the delta coronavirus variant spike might have peaked could well be misguided.
“I’d like to share optimism, but I hope that you’re making and planning policy on the basis of pessimism,” Cass told Gosselin.
The superintendent said that “while we do want to hear people’s voices, we’re not going to get into a COVID volleyball match. We’re trying to reach out to hear what people are saying, and be responsive to the needs of our families.”
Staff members returned to Lenox Memorial Middle and High School and Morris Elementary School on Tuesday; the first day of class for students is Thursday.
The School Committee unanimously adopted a policy requiring free, weekly pooled COVID testing for all staffers, including bus drivers who are employees, starting next week.
The district advocates but does not require vaccination of school staff or students, and it strongly recommends that students participate in pooled testing, which helps identify potential coronavirus cases by sampling small groups at the same time.
The committee adopted a universal mask mandate at its previous meeting for everyone inside the district’s buildings and on school transportation until further notice.
Gosselin pointed out that since 98 percent of the district’s staffers are vaccinated fully, the pooled-testing requirement is “a way to heighten a safe environment to the greatest extent possible.”
On what he described as a “tiny” amount of asbestos-contaminated “debris” on some Lenox Memorial Middle and High School windowsills after several windstorms last March that looked like “dried brownie crumbs,” Gosselin updated the board on the environmental remediation efforts that closed the school building from mid-March to late April.
“It was a small event, and was dealt with quickly and efficiently,” he said. “We’ve had no other incidents, and we feel cautiously optimistic at this point. Windows and exterior walls are being caulked for a tighter seal and barrier. That would be significant toward preventing future occurrences.”
Gosselin reported enrollment of 735 students in the district as of Monday, from prekindergarten through grade 12 — 438 at the middle and high school and 297 at the elementary school. Nonresident school choice students total slightly less than 40 percent of the overall student body.
The superintendent described the numbers as “trending upward,” reflecting a return of students who were home-schooled or attended parochial school at St. Mary’s in Lee during the 2020-21 Lenox school year’s mix of hybrid, remote and full reopening during the final six weeks last spring.
The committee also heard from a petition from 40 parents proposing that the middle and high school host a boys’ varsity lacrosse team in a South Berkshire co-op arrangement including Lee High, which already has a youth lacrosse program.
“As one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports, lacrosse provides Lenox with an additional draw for students and families seeking a ‘college prep’ experience,” the petition stated.
Representing the parents’ group, Matthew Lenehan said he and his wife moved back to Lenox recently for the quality of the school district, including varsity sports. He said two-thirds of the state’s school districts offer lacrosse programs.
“I see a real opportunity for the town to retain and attract new families,” he told the school board. He asked the committee to consider adopting a boys’ team in conjunction with Lee and Monument Mountain High in Great Barrington “as an opportunity for all the kids and a great addition to school spirit. There’s a lot of support to see this program happen.”
Calling the proposal well-timed, Athletic Director David Pugh reported that the expense of equipment, uniforms, transportation and other costs would approach $12,000 for hosting five home games on the lower soccer field, while the other South Berkshire schools would accommodate three more contests.
Adopting the program would add only a limited, ongoing annual increase to the School Department budget, said Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Melissa Falkowski.
“It’s beneficial to the whole community to keep our kids active in the spring, tied to sports,” Pugh said. “It makes sense to adopt the program.”
After extensive discussion, the committee approved the program unanimously in a motion that stated: “Lenox Public Schools will host a Lacrosse program for boys in grades 7 through 12 (as eligible and appropriate under current MIAA rules and regulations) and will invite students to participate from other districts in accordance with existing policies for cooperative sports programming.”