Marlborough superintendent calls for waiver from state attendance accountability measures

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MARLBOROUGH – Marlborough Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bergeron recently called on the School Committee to request a waiver from state attendance accountability measures for the current school year. 

This came as Bergeron criticised the state’s use of attendance in its accountability system amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Attendance as an accountability measure for schools in this environment unreasonably punishes all districts for trying to remain open for students during a pandemic,” he said during a Jan. 11 School Committee meeting.

Superintendent notes COVID-19 case rates

There were 175 active cases in Marlborough public schools on Jan. 11, down from 181 cases on Jan. 6.

The district, meanwhile, had recently been seeing attendance rates of between 85 and 90% for faculty, and between 75 and 80% for students, he said.

As the state does factor in attendance when evaluating its school districts, Bergeron noted the option of a waiver.

“I’m going to advocate for the School Committee to use their resources and voice to ask for a waiver for this school year on this one accountability area,” Bergeron said.

“I do believe the commissioner is sympathetic to this issue and is working with the United States [Department of Education] to request relief in this area,” he added, referencing Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeff Riley.

Attendance rates have been a topic of discussion throughout the state particularly as COVID-19 case rates spiked earlier this month.

Some students have been out of school due to COVID-19 quarantine. Others have stayed home while waiting for test results after displaying symptoms of the coronavirus. Still others have stayed home due to family anxieties about the rapid spread of the virus, officials say.

Locally, Shrewsbury Public Schools superintendent Joseph Sawyer reported earlier this month that as many as 14.2% of students were absent on Jan. 3.

He said that a “very significant” number of those absences were due to COVID-19.

In Northborough, Superintendent Greg Martineau said on Jan. 5 that the district was contending with its own absences among teachers, students, bus drivers and other staff. 

“We do have a number of faculty and staff who are also impacted, as students are as well and families, with COVID-19,” Martineau said. “We’re monitoring that attendance on a daily basis.”

State pushes to avoid remote learning

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently extended its mask mandate until Feb. 28

Likewise, the state has pushed to avoid the kind remote learning that took place in the 2020-2021 school year, holding to a requirement that districts provide 180 days of in-person education in the current school year. 

“The rules here are pretty simple, we count in-person school as school,” said Gov. Charlie Baker during remarks on Jan. 3. “If a school district is not open at some point over the course of the year, they can use snow days until they run out of snow days, but they do need to provide their kids with 180 days of in-person education this year.” 

The state has continued to offer several free COVID-19 testing programs for schools, including tests for symptomatic students, weekly asymptomatic pooled testing, and a test-and-stay program to help students avoid potentially unnecessary quarantines.

Under the test-and-stay program, students who are identified as close contacts for a positive exposure of COVID-19 are administered a daily test for at least five days following exposure. Students may remain in the classroom as long as they produce a negative test result each day. 

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