The School Committee voted 8-0 on Monday night to go back to in-person meetings as soon as possible at Everett High, but not without some worry as to losing the large numbers of parents and community members that have been attracted to the Zoom meetings.
On Monday night, Chair Tom Abruzzese began the discussion about moving back to in-person meetings at the high school for the members and guests, though the general public likely wouldn’t be allowed to attend under such a format. That, of course, would make the Zoom option a necessity going forward in order to function as an open meeting.
“It’s not just because I’m tired of Zoom meetings,” said Abruzzese. “I personally think it’s time. We had meetings in the administration building and I personally think we should go back to in-person School Committee meetings.”
Any such plan would include socially distancing the members, and masks would be required for those attending. A cleaning protocol in the library would be established in addition to what is already being performed, and Josh DelGaizo of Everett Public Schools Channel 15 said he believed they could broadcast on television and also have a Zoom meeting setup as well for the public to watch.
Most of the members were in agreement.
Member Alan Panarese said he is willing to come back, but would appreciate an option for those that do not want to.
“I am willing to come back as long as we’re socially distanced and there are masks worn,” he said. “I don’t have a problem either if anyone has a problem doing this. I have no objection to anyone that is nervy with their health and doesn’t want to come back.”
Said Member Marcony Almeida Barros, “I believe this is totally possible to do, and totally safe to do. The Council has been doing it…I’d rather go there. If someone doesn’t want to go, then Zoom is an option.”
Member Millie Cardillo agreed, saying that students are in the schools and administrators too.
“We have staff in our schools and now we have students in our schools and administrators in our schools,” she said. “We should also feel safe in our schools. I don’t want to hold it against anyone that doesn’t want to come in because of their health, though. My personal opinion is I’m ready.”
The one concern, however, is losing the huge audience that has migrated to watching School Committee meetings for critical information. The Committee was one of the first to hold a successful online meeting in Everett, and their online meetings have been the most successful of the COVID era in Everett – along with the Zoning Board and Planning Board. At one point last spring, a School Committee meeting had more than 2,000 viewers watching live. In a world prior where meetings featured empty audiences and big decisions being made, one highlight of the era in Everett has been just how many parents have migrated to watch the School Committee and become informed on school re-opening issues in a way they didn’t before.
“Zoom and Facebook for our viewership is skyrocketing,” said Member Frank Parker. “We regularly have 1,200 to 10,000 views of these videos. Messaging coming out of these meetings is critically important on the topic of where we are and where we’re going. I don’t want to lose that.”
Many on the Committee, including Supt. Priya Tahiliani, said they were worried about the product that would be put out with an in-person meeting that has an online component attached to it.
Many have pointed out that City Council meetings in person have not been as successful for the public, as the sound is bad and makes it difficult to hear what’s going on. Meanwhile, there are issues there also about conduct and mask wearing and divulging symptoms. Few on the Committee wanted to stage such meetings, but also wanted to meet in person at some point soon.
“I think it’s not the health issue here but the technical issue and the public access,” said Member Stephanie Lambert. “If it’s an open meeting and there’s a hot item, we can’t have 50 people in the Library with us. There is so much information families want and they do go back to these videos. There are issues with the City Council and there are times I have no idea what happened…Maybe our meeting can be of a better quality…It’s really the access piece.”
A motion was made by Barros to have the next meeting in two weeks in person, but that was amended to say the next possible meeting would be in person – maybe in two weeks or maybe longer.
DelGaizo said he believed they could stage in-person meetings with a Zoom component that would translate just as well as the Zoom meetings do now, except with all the members present together.