City Hall: School board to resume in-person meetings

·5 min read

May 30—SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS voted unanimously last week to resume meeting at City Hall starting in June.

Committee meetings will be held in person. If there's a schedule conflict, the sessions will take place at the district offices at West High School on Hecker Street.

At both locations — the district offices and City Hall — members of the public will be asked to wait outside or in a nearby room to listen to the meeting when social distancing is not possible. They will be allowed to enter the chambers to offer public comment.

When everyone is able to be seated six feet apart, school board members and those attending the meetings will be allowed to take off their masks.

Any board members who aren't ready to return to in-person sessions can participate remotely.

The Board of Aldermen recently voted to return to in-person meetings as of June 1.

School board members also voted to allow Manchester student-athletes to go maskless while competing. Fans can go without masks when they're able to social-distance.

The board also approved so-called mask breaks for Manchester students when they are outside school buildings and able to social-distance.

Board against bill

The Board of School Committee voted last week to formally oppose House Bill 544, citing the harmful effect officials believe it could have on students in the state's most diverse school district.

The bill would ban schools from teaching what it identifies as "divisive concepts" like critical race theory and deny state funding to businesses, schools or organizations that spread these "divisive concepts" by teaching about systemic racism and holding certain diversity and anti-racism training sessions.

Last week, school board members voted 13-1 to send a letter objecting to the bill, which they say is an attempt to "silence dialogue and restrict speech."

At-large board member Joseph Lachance was only "no" vote. Ward 12's Kelly Thomas was absent.

"We are opposed to any bill which will limit any school's ability to talk about race or gender, or to educate our students and staff about the historical discrimination against communities of color, women, and other marginalized groups, and the impacts that long standing racism and sexism has had on the American people," the letter read. "We cannot pretend this history does not exist or that it does not affect our present and future."

In the letter, board members wrote that Manchester recently approved a policy aimed at creating an equitable education experience for local students, which acknowledges they are negatively impacted by racism and sexism.

Board members say the reach of the new Manchester policy is wide, in the hopes of addressing students affected by discrimination because of language, gender identity, special education status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background and mobility, in addition to race and ethnicity.

"Many students in Manchester fall into one of those categories, and to pass a bill such as this one would severely hamper the ability of our district to move forward in our goal of providing equitable access to education for all our students," read the letter.

Saving city records

Aldermen have approved a request from City Clerk Matt Normand seeking permission to apply for a grant of up to $10,000 from the New Hampshire State Library Conservation Plate Grant Program — also known as the Moose Plate Grant — to restore "historic and one-of-a-kind" ledgers of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The ledgers document the board's orders from 1864-1953, which Normand says cover a wide variety of historical topics, including bounties related to the Civil War, the construction of schools and bridges, the distribution of smallpox vaccines and the commissioning of the Lincoln Statue.

According to Normand, the ledgers are in desperate need of conservation treatment, and digitization will allow for the records to be accessible to the public online.

The Moose Plate Grant is dedicated to preservation and conservation activities conducted on publicly owned documents and materials.

Working on the railroad

Mayor Joyce Craig and city public works officials announced last week they will partner with Pan Am Railways to mark World Environment Day by hosting a community cleanup along the downtown railroad corridor on Saturday, June 5.

The cleanup will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and railroad traffic will be paused during that time. DPW trucks and staff will begin on Bedford Street east of the Mill Girl stairs, and the parking lot on the corner of Granite and Canal streets, near the WMUR studios.

Each site will have DPW staffers and vehicles with cleanup materials such as trash bags and gloves and will serve as a drop-off location for materials collected along the railroad. Volunteers also are encouraged to use the pick-up and drop-off locations to clean up a local park, trail or street of their choice if they wish.

Public Works partnered with Pan Am Railways for a community cleanup in 2019, but the effort was put on hold in 2020 because of COVID-19. Participants walking on the rail line will need to sign a waiver — available at both DPW trucks — to enter the rail bed.

"I'm pleased we'll be working together with Pan Am railways again to make sure our vibrant downtown and booming Millyard areas are clean and welcoming for residents, businesses and visitors," Craig said in a statement. "Last month the community stepped up for the Community Clean-Up for Earth Day, and this is another great way to spend some time outside, enjoying each other's company, while at the same time showing civic pride and working toward a cleaner, more beautiful city."

Volunteers, organizations and businesses interested in receiving a reminder email and information about future city clean-ups can sign up at forms.gle/HQJYtUWorQGKvZmn9.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.

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