With Vernon schools reopening for in-person instruction on Jan. 19, the school board on Dec. 17 reaffirmed its previous decision to retain its Pandemic Response Team.
After a long discussion at the previous week’s workshop, on Dec. 10, the school board voted 4-3 in favor of keeping the team. Board members Kelly Mitchell, Theresa Coughlin Scura, and Jennifer Pellet, and board president Justin Annunziata, all voted in favor, while board members Michael Peek, Natalie Buccieri, and Brad Sparta voted against.
Board members Joe Sweeney and Mark Cilli were not president for the Dec. 10 vote. Sweeney said on Dec. 17 that he had technical difficulties with his Zoom connection.
Mitchell, chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, said the committee recommended on Dec. 10 that the Pandemic Response Team could help with a long list of projects that needed to be completed in the schools.
Buccieri said those people were hired for a specific job, which was cleaning surfaces touched by students in school during the pandemic.
“When we have a public meeting and a public discussion and approve a job description, and then it’s utilized for something else, that’s disappointing,” Buccieri said on Dec. 17.
‘A wonderful experience’
At the previous workshop, board member Brad Sparta asked why the team was still working, since the board said last summer that it wouldn’t be working if the district went virtual.
Shawn Reed, a pandemic response assistant at Lounsberry Hollow School and parent of two, called the job a “wonderful experience.”
“I am able to make a small living, learn new things, and continue to work with the children and be able to support my children during their virtual learning,” Reed said.
Reed was formerly an aide in the building. She said she was told she would be offered her aide job back after the pandemic response position ran its course.
The team has kept the building clean, he said, and their presence was a comfort to teachers, students, and parents.
“There are plenty of people working in there every day,” said Barbara Monschauer, a fourth-grade teacher at Lounsberry Hollow.
“I went in to do a science lab the other day because I didn’t want to have ‘lava’ erupting all over my kitchen counters,” she said. “Everything was very clean and very well cared for. You could see there was a lot of work going on. That is appreciated.”
Annunziata said he supports keeping the team because he believes the district will need them on Jan. 10, and the hiring process takes time.
“They won’t be here when we no longer need them for the pandemic,” Annunziata said. “I think we’ll need them in a month.”
Cilli said he preferred to keep the Pandemic Response Team as it was intended to be employed because he’s unsure if schools will reopen on Jan. 19.
“I understand both sides,” he said. “I think it was a commitment to a temporary job for a specific job description that does not include these maintenance projects that came up. I would lean the other way if I was sure we were coming back on Jan. 19.”
Sweeney said the Pandemic Response Team is still working in the buildings.
“The buildings are not vacant,” he said. “Teachers are in there every day and doing work. The building still has to be cleaned. It’s not like these pandemic response employees are not doing anything.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated from the original to correct the misspelling of Shawn Reed’s first name, and the incorrect pronoun used with her name. The Advertiser-News regrets the error.
“The buildings are not vacant. Teachers are in there every day and doing work. The building still has to be cleaned. It’s not like these pandemic response employees are not doing anything.” Joe Sweeney