March 21, 2023

Climate change, outdoor learning dominate Amherst school district meeting on how to spend pandemic relief money

AMHERST – Much of the discussion on Thursday during a listening session for parents on…

AMHERST – Much of the discussion on Thursday during a listening session for parents on how the school district would spend $3.2 million in COVID-19 money focused on benefits and cost savings of energy efficient buildings. The session was organized by Amherst regional school district.

A handful of climate change activists attended to make these points.

They also said ensuring the buildings’ heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technology is able provides a safe environmental must remain a priority.

The other major theme centered around how to maximize outdoor learning, in part as a means to allow children to not have to wear masks on campus.

The Amherst (K-6) and Amherst-Pelham regional districts (7-12) are requiring masks wearing by all, while inside buildings.

For outside activities, the face mask will be optional, when the academic year begins late August.

Renata Shepard, a parent, said the federal relief money should be spend to improve outdoor athletic facilities, including ball fields and the track.

“Now that there’s money coming in, I’m hoping that would be taken care of,” she said.

Children need outdoor sports for mental and physical health reasons, she said.

“Every place you look in terms of athletics needs help,” Shepard said.

Lynn Vennell said “expanded (programs) for the arts” should happen, using the grant money.

The district’s communications director Deb Westmoreland facilitated the Aug. 12 remote access meeting.

She told participants who had shared their ideas on Thursday that the school board would review the feedback.

Westmoreland thanked those in attendance.

“I appreciate everyone’s input so much,” she said, adding: “It’s pretty rare to get grant funding spread over three years,” referring to the allocation, called the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III grants, or ESSER III money.

The Amherst grades K through 6 district’s share is $1,553,427; the four-town Amherst-Pelham regional district, grades 7through 12, that includes Shutesbury and Leverett will receive $1,656,342.

According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the fiscal year 2022 grant submission deadline is Monday, Oct. 4.

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