School committee talks flu and 2011 budget
In an update about H1N1 (swine flu) cases to the school committee Monday night, Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) principal Steve Nixon said that 101 students were absent that day.
School staff made phone calls to confirm that approximately 91 of those students were sick, and also to determine how many of them had flu-like symptoms and how many would be out of school for multiple days, Mr. Nixon said.
In recapping the swine flu history, Mr. Nixon said two football players became ill with flu symptoms on October 23, which their parents said doctors confirmed was swine flu. Given that students playing sports are in close contact and are more prone to the spread of infection, Mr. Nixon said he and his staff decided that the criteria for canceling sports events is when 20 percent of a team's members are ill.
The varsity and junior varsity football teams were the first to cancel competitions, followed by soccer, the cross-country team, and the girls' field hockey team.
As of Monday, nine members of the field hockey team potentially had H1N1, Mr. Nixon said, which may affect their participation in their first MIAA tournament game, scheduled for Friday afternoon on Nantucket.
The virus does appear to be cycling through, Mr. Nixon said. Although there is only one varsity football player who is still ill, Mr. Nixon said that now many students on the junior varsity team are sick. He and the coaches agreed that football team members who have recovered could begin conditioning practices this week in preparation for next weekend's game.
In a conference call with the Department of Public Health, Mr. Nixon said he and school personnel were told that they took the right precautions to minimize infectious rates. As an additional measure to limit the spread of the virus, Mr. Nixon said the high school would limit gatherings to no more than 25 students. On Saturday, for example, students taking SAT's will be divided among two or three rooms, instead one large room.
"One thing I'm cognizant of is that the staff, community, and students have handled it well," Mr. Nixon said.
Mr. Weiss said a lot of credit goes to school nurses, Island health officials, and school staff, who have worked very hard to prepare for and deal with the H1N1 outbreak.
There are very few cases in Island elementary schools, Mr. Weiss said, other than Oak Bluffs School, where there are about nine students with potential cases of H1N1. The school system plans to start H1N1 immunizations in up-Island schools next week, he added.
Mr. Nixon also reported that parent-teacher conferences and the new sign-up process for them on Edline were a success last week. About 50 more parents signed up this year for conferences, and 433 students were represented.
During a public comment session, several officers and board members of M.V. Drive for Life (MVDFL) asked the committee to reinstate funds for a driver's education program in the school curriculum.
The nonprofit organization promotes driver's education for all teens. Its founders, Tom and Barbara Furino, and several members share the tragedy of their children's deaths in car accidents.
"Of all the classes students take, driver's education is the one that keeps them alive," said Mr. Furino, MVDFL president.
The organization raised about $60,000 to furnish a classroom and equip it with two driving simulators and computers and software for training. The classroom portion of driver's education was offered as an elective in the high school's curriculum for two years before being cut from the fiscal year 2010 budget.
Given the budget constraints that the high school faces, Mr. Weiss suggested that MVDFL members put together a concrete proposal for the driver's education program and present it at the next budget subcommittee meeting on November 16.
In other discussion, Tom Pierce, whose daughter Hayley is a senior on the girl's field hockey team, appealed to the school committee to pay to fly the team to its playoff game Friday on Nantucket, to avoid lengthy travel time using ferries and buses.
The school committee agreed to do some cost comparisons and determine what would be feasible. Committee member Susan Parker suggested it might be possible to put the cost of ferry and bus fare towards plane fare, and then the team could raise the rest. "We don't have the money," she told Mr. Pierce. The final public comments came from Tisbury Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom) member Jonathan Snyder, who regularly attends the high school budget subcommittee and school committee meetings.
In follow-up to a letter from Tisbury's FinCom to the school committee requesting a four percent reduction in the high school budget, Mr. Snyder explained that the FinCom made the same request of all town departments, including Tisbury School and MVRHS, based on projections of a revenue shortfall of that percentage next year.
It's not a matter of whether he supports driver's education or sending teams to Nantucket, Mr. Snyder said, but whether Tisbury will have enough cash at the end of the year to pay its bills.
MVRHS accounts manager Mark Friedman followed Mr. Snyder's remarks with the sobering news that the state had announced additional reductions in transportation reimbursements this week, which could potentially reduce the high school's revenues by an additional $90,000. "We will try to clarify that number and come up with plans to address that," Mr. Friedman said.
English department highlights
The English department was highlighted at this month's school committee meeting, with reports from department head Dan Sharkovitz and several students.
Julia Sadowski and Naomi Pallas, co-editors of The High School View, and Abigail Larsen, one of the head editors of Seabreeze, the school's literary and arts magazine, explained their publications.
William Stewart passed around copies of the Fall 2009 Dukes County Intelligencer in which his research paper "A History of Fishing on Martha's Vineyard" was published. Heather Welch read an original poem she wrote, appropriately, about learning to write poetry.
Mr. Sharkovitz said the English and art departments are collaborating on "Students to Students," a project in which students write and illustrate children's books which are posted online and available free for children to download and read.
In other business, the school committee approved a request from social studies/history department head Elaine Weintraub to put up a plaque honoring Quinton Bannister, who is retiring at the end of the year, as the high school's first African American teacher.
The committee also voted to approve a third reading of a student travel policy, pending a change requiring a minimum of two chaperones on all trips.
In addition, the committee approved a change to allow the principal and superintendent to approve last-minute overnight trips for students that come up between school committee meetings.
Upcoming meetings to be held at the high school include a budget subcommittee meeting on November 16 at 8 am; a public hearing on the high school's fiscal year 2010 budget on November 30 at 7 pm; and the school committee's meeting on December 7, at 7 pm, to certify the budget.