The Martha’s Vineyard Diversity Coalition (MVDC) is currently working on a proposal to Island schools in support of renaming Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples Day on school calendars.
In addition to the holiday renaming, the group is looking to address a number of other diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues in schools.
According to Jocelyn Walton, co-chair of the MVDC education committee, their mission is to ensure that every Island child gets the education they deserve, in an environment where they feel valued and safe. “To that end, we recognize the need to acknowledge, honor, and support the diverse peoples on this Island,” Walton said.
As part of an action plan to address DEI in education, Walton said, the coalition’s education subcommittee is spearheading an initiative to eliminate Columbus Day on school calendars, incorporate National Native American Heritage Month (November) in school programs and activities, stress daily acknowledgement “of the privilege we have of living on this Island of indigenous people — the Wampanoags,” and create a year-round DEI coordinator position that would handle curriculum, professional development, and recruitment for all the Island schools.
Within a month or two, Walton said, she hopes to have a more detailed presentation for school committee members.
In other business, COVID surveillance testing began at Island schools this week. So far, all six schools have been tested, with 450 staff members and students tested in total.
“We are looking to bump that number up to 600 eventually,” Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said.
D’Andrea also mentioned the “test and stay” program that allows students and staff to be tested in school whenever they are identified as close contacts, or are symptomatic.
Individuals are tested for five consecutive school days, and as long as they remain asymptomatic and test negative, they can continue to attend school or work, as opposed to being required to quarantine.
So far, according to D’Andrea, about half of the students and staff across the Island have provided consent for testing. “We will continue to reach out and work with families to encourage them to consent,” D’Andrea said.
Currently, schools in Massachusetts are not permitted to require testing for those who have not consented.
There is currently no remote learning option for students, so school committee chair Amy Houghton said it behooves families to consent.
Recently, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education authorized Massachusetts education commissioner Jeff Riley to extend the indoor mask mandate for all K-12 schools until Nov. 1, and will be making a decision later in October as to what will happen after the mandate expires.
Part of the ruling stipulates that by Oct. 15, if schools have 80 percent or more of their staff and students vaccinated, they may opt to allow all vaccinated individuals to choose not to mask.
The only Island school that would qualify for this exemption currently would be the high school, because students under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine. “We are currently working on determining what percentage of our staff and students collectively are vaccinated,” D’Andrea said.
At their November meeting, the committee will discuss details of the mask policy and look over vaccination numbers.