Belmont Schools To Open Year Under Universal PreK-12 Mask Mandate

Photo: Belmont students will start the new school year wearing masks.

Belmont students and teachers throughout the district will be wearing masks to start the new school year beginning on Thursday, Sept. 9, after the Belmont School Committee at its Monday, Aug. 9 meeting accepted a town-wide universal mask mandate approved by the Board of Health and the Belmont Select Board on Friday, Aug. 6.

The committee will “revisit the mask policy and discuss strategies to increase vaccination rates” with the Health Board sometime at the end of September, according to the policy.

“I believe it’s really important to provide Belmont school families and staff with clarity about the masking plans and requirements for the beginning of the 2021-22 school year,” said School Board Chair Amy Checkoway.

Attended by approximately 200 via Zoom, the meet showed no sign of contentiousness or rancor seen at school committee meetings across the country – notably one held on Tuesday in Franklin, Tenn. – that resulted in anti-masking protests and threats of violence, while a Fox Entertainment personality claimed masking students is done to “terrify” them and anti-mandate decrees being issued by a handful of governors.

During the three hour meeting, Superintendent John Phelan presented the district’s proposed “Back to School Health/Safety Protocol Plan” for the 2021-22 school year created by the district’s Health Team. Its recommendations include:

  • Implement indoor masking for staff and students in accordance to the Aug. 6 town-wide decree.
  • Masks required on buses and at health clinics.
  • No mandate for outdoor activities or while students are at lunch.
  • Maximize distances in classrooms and cafeterias at the elementary and middle schools including providing outdoor space.
  • Encourage vaccinations for staff and students 12+ and host vaccination sites at schools.
  • Testing, quarantining and contract tracing is also recommended; the district is waiting for state guidance.

Phelan told the committee the district would be seeking direction on creating an indoor mask mandate for the entire student population and staff. The Health Team’s guidance would be provided by the state – using the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) – the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Phelan noted “there’s a lot of similar guidance” from the three sources and that included masking for all preschool and elementary school students as they currently can not be vaccinated. The one area Phelan said where the three entities differed is in-school masking for vaccinated student in 7th through 12th grade. While the AAP and CDC recommend masks, the state’s DPH advise masks if the student lives with someone who is not vaccinated or immunocompromised while DESE would allow vaccinated students to remain maskless while indoors.

Masking challenge for High School students

Since half of the grades at the Belmont’s Chenery Middle School fall under the elementary policy and the other half in the 7th to 12 range, Phelan said it was best that all students remained masked as the four grades will come in contact throughout the day. This left the School Committee to determine the masking in the traditional 9-12 high school grades.

Adrienne Allen, the Board of Health’s observer at the School Committee, told the committee that as a physician she was “very hopeful” two months ago that vaccinations would create a situation where mask use could safety be reduced. “But then things rapidly changed before our eyes with [the] Delta [variant],” she said, with the most disconcerting part being vaccinated people can spread the variant which is nearly as contagious as chickenpox.

With the overriding goal of the School Committee and district is to “keep kids in school as much as possible” while mitigating harm as much as possible, said Allen. And masking protects people from a source; for example, “if I had Covid and I’m wearing a mask, you’re protected. But it also protects other people.”

So if you want to keep students in school and protected, the schools should have a universal mask mandate, said Allen.

It soon became clear the Committee’s consensus was to start the school year with grades Pre-K to 12 masked. And each of the members agreed there will likely be a time when the mandate will be modified or ended. Coming to what that point was where the committee split.

For Jamal Saeh, the answer, for at least 7th to 12th grade pupils, was already baked into the town-wide mask mandate. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Saeh pointed to the town policy that says the mandate will end when the level of community transmission for Middlesex county as recorded by the CDC is designated as either low or moderate for two consecutive weeks.

But the other members pointed to the unique nature of the schools where, unlike the town-wide impact on stores, eateries and offices in which people may spend a few minutes to an hour, students and staff in schools are inside and interacting with dozens of fellow students for six hours or more.

Committee member Mike Crowley what masking does is helps the district “avoid disruptions that so rattled the community last year.” And while it’s impossible to know with any certainty what the coming year will bring but masking seems to be a fairly effective strategy.” For Crowley and others, rather than have a “ridged” standard as the town-mandate, the policy should be reviewed on a regular basis.

The committee did agree with Saeh that the first review of the mask mandate should take place in late September and also to advocate for increased vaccinations among students – those in 9th to 12th grades have about a 80 percent fully vaccination rate – with future discussion on a possible requirement that staff be vaccinated.

”If we learned one thing from last year, it’s that people value in person schooling,” said Committee member Andrea Prestwich, and masking not only tamps down Covid spread but also the flu and other respiratory illnesses “and takes some of the load off of our nursing staff.”

Feds Ties Belmont’s Hands Regulating 5G Cell Towers

Photo: 5G small cell technology is coming whether Belmont likes it or not.

The future of ultra fast, ultra reliable, ultra cool mobile connection is coming to Belmont as a company in alliance with AT&T will present an application to install 5G small cell equipment at two locations in the Belmont Center area before the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 14.

But don’t think that Belmont has much said in the matter. New Federal Communications Commission regulations called unprecedented in favoring corporate interests over local municipalities have tied the hands of town officials both here and around the country in any attempt to limit the number, height, and appearance of the hardware.

Just how tall are stand alone “small cell” towers? Try a 50 foot black cylinder pole with a lamp jutting out near the top.

“They are monstrously tall,” said Selectman Adam Dash as he pointed out height can not be challenged under the new F.C.C. regulations.

An example of the poles.

Aesthetically, the towers can appear as a light poll, the supporting equipment can be stored in enclosures shaped like mailboxes or, it can be designed to look like a tree.

With the prospects of the town soon being home to dozens of these new cell stations, the board attempted to dull that impact by voting for a package of “reasonable” restrictions that will pass federal muster.

“This is as good as we’re going to do in the time frame we have as we continue to work on it,” said Dash as the board approved a series of “life/safety” measures at its Monday, May 13 meeting so the town will have some limiting language on the books before Tuesday’s meeting.

Some of the 10 new regulations passed Monday included restrictions on poles in historic districts, they can not be within 10 feet of a house, the color of a new pole must be consistent with existing poles, a structural engineer is required to work on the project, there is no signage on the pole, a series of fees and there can not be cell equipment within 20 feet of each other.

These were the sort of “reasonable” restrictions the town’s counsel said would be defensible if challenged with the F.C.C. restrictions, said Dash who worked on an earlier draft of the regulations before it was reviewed and revised by legal counsel.

“We have some level of urgency to get this passed and then come back and [deal] with this later,” said Dash, adding he “wasn’t thrilled to having to do it quickly but I would rather get this done and then continue the discussion.”

Extenet Systems has applied to put a pole top antenna on one of the ornamental light posts in Belmont Center between 30 – 42 Leonard St. and the other on a Belmont Light light pole at 223 Channing Rd. The small cell antenna are located in an enclosed pod-like unit with the equipment supporting it secured either to the base or midway up the structure.

5G is the next generation of wireless internet which produces far faster speeds than existing cellular connections, allowing for a wide range of applications and uses. (For more see the explanation presented by CNBC.)

And it appears there will be quite a few of these these cell locations. Verizon, which along with AT&T are leading the installation of 5G in the area, noted online that “[W]e’re building a vast network of small cells, because a denser network is a crucial part of 5G Ultra Wideband deployment.”

According to a 2018 New York Times article, the new antennas will be placed an average of 500 feet apart to create complete customer coverage. When installed nationwide, 5G will add nearly one million more cell locations to the already 300,000 wireless cell stations in existence.

The installation rules being used by AT&T and Verizon was part of the F.C.C’s effort to have the US become the leader in 5G use and innovation. The FCC said the rules sought to “ban short-sighted municipal roadblocks that have the effect of prohibiting deployment of 5G.”

The federal rules make it easier for telecom industries to install its equipment by easing local zoning regulations, limiting fees and streamlining the review process. They include placing strict 60 day time limit for the board to make a decision after an application has been submitted.

The Times article noted without local regulations impeding its installation, telecommunications companies will be able to cheaply and quickly build out the system as “they cash in on the $250 billion in annual service revenue from 5G by 2025.”

Early this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit turned down a motion from a group of local governments to stay the F.C.C’s rules on the roll out of 5G technologies.

Those opposing the F.C.C. said local governments should be allowed to set its own regulations regarding the placement of telecom equipment on publicly-owned infrastructure rather than being forced to accept nationwide a one-size-fits-all approach.

The three selectmen said they are not opposed to the arrival of 5G to town, rather there remains a number of very practical questions – who pays for the electricity and running the wire to the pole and should the owner of the pole “be on board” with the placement of the antenna on their property – that need to be answered, said Dash.

During the meeting of the Belmont Light Board – made up of the Board of Selectmen – Belmont Light General Manager Christopher Roy stated he does not want the cell on Light Department structures for a myriad of reasons including the poles were not installed with additional equipment in mind.

“That’s when the rubber will hit the road,” said Dash of Roy’s objection.

Apply for the Police Chief Screening Committee


The Belmont Board of Selectmen has recently created the Police Chief Screening Committee to assist in the search for Belmont’s next Police Chief.. 

The Board is looking for two residents with a variety of talents and backgrounds who are willing to make the commitment to serve on this committee.  This committee will consist of nine voting members.

Residents who are interested in serving are invited to apply using the application specific to this particular committee which can be located on the Town website:

If you have any questions related to this committee or the appointment process, please contact Jessica Porter, Human Resources Director, at 617-993-2740 or In order to be considered for one of the two available seats, applications must be returned to Porter no later than Friday, May 31.

Selectmen OK Pay, Merit Hike for Town Administrator

Photo: Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator

After receiving a positive job evaluation two weeks ago, the Belmont Board of Selectmen at its April 22 meeting increased Belmont’s Town Administrator Patrice Garvin’s paycheck so she’s a bit closer to what her peers in town government are taking home.

In addition to salary and merit raises for Garvin, the town administrator presented a list of goals for this coming fiscal year, according to the town’s Human Resources Director Jessica Porter

The selectmen provided Garvin, who began her tenure in Belmont in January 2018, a two percent cost of living increase and two percent merit payment retroactive to July 1, 2018 (the first day of the fiscal year 2019) and an identical pay and merit package hike effective this July 1.

In addition, the board increased the town administrator’s vehicle allowance from $2,400 to $7,500 as of July 1 to assist her daily commute from her Chelmsford home.

Garvin’s total compensation package on July 1 will be approximately $189,300. Her starting compensation was $170,400.

The final package still leaves Garvin behind the average compensation of $206,450 for town administrators and city managers of 14 comparable nearby municipalities, according to an analysis by Porter.

Garvin presented the board with her goals and their subsequent objectives for the coming year. They include providing financial leadership, improving the overall effectiveness and efficiency of town government and promoting economic development.

The complete list of goals and objectives are below:

GOAL 1:  Finance/Budget

The Town Administrator shall work closely with the Selectmen, Warrant Committee, Capital Budget Committee, Town Treasurer and Town Accountant in providing financial leadership, to provide a balanced budget to Town Meeting.


  1. Work with the Superintendent to develop two operating budgets for FY21. One with an override and one without.
  2. Continue to work with Finance Team to develop five year budget forecasts.
  3. Work with the Financial Task Force II to assist them in providing the Board of Selectmen Financial recommendation.
  4. Seek out grants and other funding sources that will take pressure off of the operating budget.

GOAL 2:  Operations/Service Delivery

The Town Administrator shall strive to establish a positive working environment with employees, to ensure the best delivery of services to the residents of Belmont. 


  1. Continue to inform and educate staff through department head meetings, and through moral building exercises.
  2. Continue to conduct reviews for all non-union employees.
  3. Support the HR Director in negotiating successor agreements with collective bargaining units.
  4. Work with the departments to ensure that the most productive, cost efficient services are being provided to the residents.
  5. Assist with shepherding major building projects to completion (i.e., Belmont High School Project, DPW Building, Police Station, etc.).

GOAL 3:  Open and Transparent Government

The Town Administrator shall keep the selectmen and citizens informed of governmental activities and strive to improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of Town government.


  1. Maintain that all materials are made public on the town website; better utilize other digital resources; keep all other web content current.
  2. Ensure that all selectmen minutes are up to date and approved in a timely manner.
  3. Establish a way to continue to use social media to disseminate information.

GOAL 4:  Economic Development

The Town Administrator shall work to promote economic development.


  1. Work with the Business Study Group to provide the final deliverable of their charge.
  2. If an Economic Development Committee is formed work with that committee and the Business Study Group to foster ways to improve on what has been identified.
  3. Continue to work and build relationships with the business community.

GOAL 5: Public Communication

The Town Administrator shall be an active participant in the Belmont Community.


  1. Attend community events as time allows.
  2. Continue working with committees/boards and elected officials to advance projects in town.
  3. Continue to work with Belmont Media.
  4. Continue to be open to all residents’ concerns and connect them to the town departments that will assist.

GOAL 6: Personal and Professional Growth

The Town Administrator shall pursue professional development opportunities. 


  1. Attend professional meetings, seminars and conferences including the ICMA, MMA annual conference and regional meetings. 
  2. Apply to become a candidate under the ICMA Certified Managers program.
  3. Continue to reach out to neighboring communities and to identify areas of possible regional efforts.

After No Deal By Purecoat, Community Path Design Focus On North Of Tracks

Photo: Community path now on the northside.

It’s now the north side.

The proposed community path from Belmont Center to the Cambridge line will now be going along the north side of the MBTA commuter rail tracks after town representatives could not come to an agreement with a prominent Belmont property owner to take a portion of a structure needed for the path to navigate a “pinch point” along the route.

At its Monday, April 22 meeting, the Belmont Board of Selectmen voted 3-0 to OK using $1 million in Community Preservation Committee funds in design work for a recreational trail along a community right-of-way on the north side the tracks from the proposed Alexander Avenue underpass to the intersection of Brighton Street.

“It looks like we are going to proceed with a north route for the next phase of design,” said Chair Tom Caputo.

The $1 million CPC request will come before the annual Town Meeting next week. The town is also in the running for state money to pay for construction of the path, contingent on the town beginning the design process.

The board reversed a 2-1 vote on Feb. 25 to tentatively conduct that design for a southern route that would go behind Belmont High School. That vote was conditioned on the outcome of a 60-day negotiation period with the Tosi family to secure the ownership or an easement of the Purecoat North building along Hittinger Street currently used by the dog daycare business Crate Escape.

The purchase or taking of the building was necessary after the consulting firm Pare Corp., which conducted the feasibility study of the path, said the trail would not be wide enough along a 100-foot section to pass regulatory muster by the state’s Department of Transportation and MBTA, and for emergency vehicles to access.

Bob McLaughlin, who with former Selectman Mark Paolillo represented the Board of Selectmen in the negotiation, told the board they spoke with the building managers at the site and with the owners on the phone.

“I really think they tried,” said McLaughlin, hiring an architect and engineer to review the proposals.

“They came back and said it was too much to take part of the building. And they weren’t willing to sell as it didn’t make sense for their purposes,” said McLaughlin.

“You win some, you lose some,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin noted this marks the second time the Tosi’s rejected a proposal for town use of the building, saying no in 2011 to $6 million for the sale of the building for the construction of a new Belmont Light substation. The station would eventually end up on Flanders Road.

It was clear the selectmen were not eager to begin an eminent domain process of taking the needed space, an action which Belmont Town Counsel George Hall cautioned would be “substantial financial risks to the town.” It would also be unlikely such a measure could pass Town Meeting which would need to approve a property taking by a two-thirds vote “would be a tough sell.”

Selectman Adam Dash, the lone no vote back in February, said with state money possibly on the table, “we can’t drag this out” noting that during the design phase complications could arise that would force the path’s location to be reconsidered once again.

“You got to start somewhere so you have to pick,” said Dash.

The vote was good news for Russell Leino, the chair of the Community Path Project Committee which wrote the design phase request for proposal without the certainity of what the firms would be bidding on.

“I’m very very glad about the decision because it’s hugely helpful for the committee. The [design] RFP is already out and we are having a bidder’s conference on Friday where we’ll tell them about the decision,” he said.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the name of the family owning the Purecoat North site was misidentified as Tocci. The property is owned by the Tosi family.

New Selectmen Lineup As Epstein Joins The Team [VIDEO]

Photo: Belmont’s new Board of Selectmen’s lineup (from left): Adam Dash, Chair Tom Caputo and Roy Epstein. 

The Belmont Board of Selectmen’s early morning meeting on Wednesday, April 3 was short and to the point: Welcome aboard Roy Epstein the newest member of Belmont’s governing crew and then shuffle the deck chairs.

But first, as with all newly elected officials, Epstein, who won a razor-thin victory over Jessie Bennett at Tuesday’s annual Town Election, was given the town oath by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman and sign his name into the town register.

Upstairs in the Board of Selectmen’s Room, the newly constituted board elected Tom Caputo as the next chair of the selectmen for the coming board cycle which runs until the 2020 town election. Former Chair Adam Dash will be the vice chair. 

BREAKING: Epstein Takes Selectman Seat; Prestwich, Checkoway Top School; Page On Housing

Photo: Cassandra Page (right) hugs Charles Laverty III as the newly elected member of the Housing Authority celebrates her popular victory.

In a battle between Belmont’s progressive community and the town’s establishment wing, Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein prevailed over newcomer Jessie Bennett to fill the seat of retiring selectman Mark Paolillo in a tight race in the 2019 Belmont Town Election held on Tuesday, April 2.

Epstein was able to parlay a long history of experience as a member of numerous town boards and committees to the win over Bennett garnering 2,573  votes (final totals will be certified by the state) from the town’s eight precincts, a razor thin 128 vote majority over Bennett. Epstein’s win was secured with lopsided majorities in two precincts – Belmont Hill’s Precinct 2 (a two-to-one win, 442-208) and Winn Brook’s Precinct 8 (446-308) – to offset Bennett’s wide support winning six of the town’s eight precincts.

Trailing the field was newcomer Tim Flood who came in third with 128 votes.

In the race for Belmont School Committee, incumbent Andrea Prestwich will retain her seat for a full three-year term coming in with 2,975 votes, joining first-time candidate Amy Checkoway who took the second three-year seat available this year with 3,105 votes. Peter Pantazapolous (1,417 votes) came in third in the three-person race. 

Micheal Crowley ran unopposed to take the one-year term seat on the School Committee.

In a race for a five-year seat on the Belmont Housing Committee, Belmont Village resident Cassandra Page defeated incumbent Tomi Olsen, 2,422 to 2,034. An anxious Page arrived at Town Hall to hear the results called by Assistant Town Clerk Meg Piccione outside the Board of Selectmen’s Room. When her victory was confirmed, Page – a popular first time candidate who ran on improving the lives of her fellow residents – received countless handshakes and hugs from supporters, observers such as Paolillo who came to see if he won a seat on Town Meeting (he did) and total strangers. 

“Oh my God. This is so not real,” an overjoyed Page said to Charles Laverty III (who was newly re-elected on the Board of Assessors) who is a now fellow housing board member. 

Final Say: Jessie Bennett, Board Of Selectmen

Photo: Jessie Bennett (photo from

I am inspired by you.

You have shared so much with me these last few months: your hopes for your children or your retirement; your excitement, and nervousness, about the educational opportunities brought by the new 7-12 school; your determination to address our climate goals, cost of housing, business climate, traffic congestion, and pedestrian safety; your passion for the gathering places that define our town – the library, rink, and soon, community path.

You are what I love about Belmont.

So let’s do something bold. Let’s bring us all together. Let’s bring our combined skills, experiences, points of view. And let’s work like crazy until we get things done.

That’s what I do. I’ve spent my entire professional life joining and leading teams – in banking and non-profits, marketing and communications. I’ve spent nearly a decade in Belmont organizations – from town government to school-related non-profits to citizen groups – collaborating and leading people to accomplish big goals.

At this moment in time, Belmont needs a leader. Not an analyst, not a manager – we have those on staff. We need a Selectwoman who talks to residents, studies every angle of the issues, and values the advice of town departments and committees.

We need a leader who strikes the right balance and keeps us all in mind when tough decisions are made.

This is my promise: I am here to serve you, and I will never forget that it’s not about me – it’s about us.

I hope you will join me in creating the future of our town, and I humbly ask for your vote on April 2.

Letter To The Editor: Vote Roy Epstein, For A Shared Vision

Photo: (from left) Elizabeth Dionne, Roy Epstein, Lisa Gibalerio

To the editor:

We are two Belmont women who are voting for Roy Epstein for Selectman on Tuesday because we believe in a vision for our town that is shared by both of the major candidates.

Look at the platforms of the candidates — check out their websites. Each wants successful building projects, awesome schools, diversity and transparency, safe roads and sidewalks, less traffic, environmental progress, affordable senior housing, a community path, and sustainable budgets.

We want that too! It’s a vision shared by many people in our community. (It’s funny that there is such heated debate on social media—the candidates basically agree!)

We bet you agree with these laudable goals as well.

Since we all agree on the goals, the question really becomes: what’s the best way to reach these goals? Which candidate is best equipped to help us move forward toward accomplishing these goals?

Here the answer is clear: Roy Epstein.

Roy has a decade of experience working through all the ins-and-outs of a complex town structure (regulations, by-laws, arcane procedures, etc.). He has also accomplished things that no one else even thought of: the DPW/Police Station renovation, the Flanders Road electrical substation siting, and so on. To anyone who knows the town’s recent history, Roy’s accomplishments are staggering.

We are first-hand witnesses, we have watched Roy in action. While others sit in meetings, pontificating about “the best path forward,” Roy quietly takes out a ruler and a pencil and visits the sites at issue. Where others might skip down to the summaries, Roy pores over the budgets line by line. Roy investigates, he looks deeply. He’s the Sherlock Holmes of town government: he not only solves the case, but his process is brilliant, and his conclusion is beyond what anyone was considering.

The other major candidate is certainly accomplished, and we appreciate her many contributions to Belmont, but her field, her experience, is in communications and marketing—not governance, not finance. With a $295 million school underway, many other capital projects ramping up, and a fiscal storm the likes of which we haven’t seen in years about to hit the town, we need the person with the most profound financial skills and the deepest relevant town experience sitting in the driver’s seat. That means Roy.

So, precisely because we share this vision, because we want that common vision of a thriving Belmont to come to fruition, we’re voting for Roy!

We hope you will too. Thanks!

Lisa Gibalerio, Campaign Chair; Elizabeth Dionne, Campaign Treasurer

Committee to Elect Roy Epstein

Letter To The Editor: Bennett Will Be ‘A Tremendous Asset’ To Selectmen

Photo: Jessie Bennett (photo from

To the editor:

I’m writing to express my enthusiastic support for Select Board candidate Jessie Bennett. Having worked with Jessie on many projects around town, I am continually impressed by her level of commitment and experience, her ability to build consensus, her outstanding people skills, and her financial pragmatism. She is a tremendous listener and actively seeks out opinions and perspective from others, particularly those who may not always feel heard.

She is a frequent attendee at Belmont High School Building Committee meetings, traffic meetings, Planning Board meetings, Business Study meetings, Selectmen meetings, and likely countless others that I’m not there to witness (and attended these before she decided to run for the Select Board). She is dedicated to pedestrian safety/safe streets and traffic calming, senior services, affordable housing, environmental sustainability, and is a well-known champion for our exceptional education system. I’ve seen firsthand the work that she’s put into these issues and know that she will bring that tireless energy and perspective to the Select Board table.

Jessie was instrumental in getting the high school project passed, and I’m confident that she will be a key player in the success of the project going forward. Her experience in leadership, collaboration, and financial matters will be a tremendous asset to our Select Board. I look forward to voting for her on April 2.

Remember, local elections matter – please take a few minutes to learn about each candidate across all races, and show up on Tuesday!

Emma Thurston
Baker Street
Precinct 1 Town Meeting Member