The School Committee last night held a community input session and many parents voiced concerns over bullying, school vacations, and bussing among other topics.
"We wanted to have an informal public input session," said School Committee Chairwoman Janet Askenburg, "so that you can tell us what's working and what you'd like to see done differently next year."
Three dozen parents, teachers, and students took advantage of the opportunity by engaging in lively discussions, including one on bussing procedures and fees. Currently, parents are charged $200 per child up to $500 per family for bussing use. The vehicles used to be state-funded, but parents were required to pay as state money dried up.
"We've asked our legislators to look to unfunded mandates and that is one of them," said committee member Evelyn Thoren. "None of us want to charge fees; public school should be free, it shouldn't be that only the ones with more money can participate in activities and take the bus."
The committee was clear that no child would be left on the corner by a morning bus, regardless of their payment status, but unpaid students would have to be picked up after school. Other concerns surrounding overcrowding and route changes will also be addressed by the committee in discussions with the bus drivers.
Bullying prevention and intervention was also raised by several members of the group. One student from Parker Middle School said that bullying went down after John Halligan, whose son committed suicide as a result of bullying, , but it hasn't stayed that way. She and other speakers said that frequent programs would be helpful.
Superintendent Frank Tiano said his administrative workers and all teachers are dedicated to bullying prevention and intervention whenever possible and asked everyone to read their plan to see how the community can work together to curtail the harmful actions.
After hearing about the anti-bullying plan, a resident asked that the teachers not lose momentum on the matter and said, "Don't let your foot off the gas pedal."
The school system calendar also came up in several discussions throughout the night with parents and teachers raising points on religious holidays, early release days and vacation weeks.
The committee members noted that teachers are asked to not assign homework or have tests on religious observance days listed on the school calendar, a guideline that some teachers appear to be unclear on, according to several attendees. Reminders will be given to all staff and any student who will miss class for this reason will be allowed to make up any missed work.
The School Committee has posted a survey about the school calendar and vacations on the Web site and asked that parents use the opportunity to provide feedback.
Throughout the meeting, several attendees expressed their thanks to the committee members for giving their time during their terms. A teacher from the high school expressed his thanks but also urged the committee to fight for the school district during the budgeting process.
Committee member Thoren said the committee and school administrators appreciated his thanks and request.
"That's the reason we're all here," she said, "to give our kids the best education possible."