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BPS pauses citywide school re-opening a week as city coronavirus rate continues to rise

Mayor Marty Walsh today announced the start of the "hybrid" model for most Boston public-school students has been delayed at least a week, from Oct. 15 to Oct. 22, because of a testing positivity rate citywide that now exceeds 4% for the first time since early June.

The delay does not apply to the roughly 1,300 "highest-needs students" who have been attending school since last week, he said. School for these special-needs students, students who are homeless or in DCF care or who are English learners will continue to receive education in BPS schools. "We are their chance for success to help them move forward," he said. "We cannot take this away from them now, so soon after they started last week. There's too much at stake for our youngest people. ... Every day matters."

"For so many of our students they need this support" from "the caring adults who love them," School Superintendent Brenda Casellius said, adding no more than 50 students are at one school at any one time. She said BPS schools are safe after months of upgrade work that included replacing stuck windows and upgrading ventilation systems. She added schools are sanitized frequently and are well stocked with masks and sanitizer.

Roxann Harvey, chair of a citywide special-ed parents group, said in-school learning is vital. She said so many students have "regressed and decomposed so much," over the past six months. Just in the past few days, "we are seeing a change," in students, she said.

Boston Health and Human Services Chief Marty Martinez said that as of Sunday, the percentage of Bostonians testing positive on Covid-19 tests hit 4.1%. Hyde Park saw a significant increase, while Dorchester, which had earlier shown a relative high rate, stayed steady. East Boston, which has long had the city's highest rate, showed a small decline, he said.

The city had set a 4% testing rate as its threshold for deciding whether to pause the return to in-school education. Walsh said that's a "conservative" number.

For the week ending Oct. 3, according to Boston Public Health Commission figures, Hyde Park now has the highest positivity rate in the city, at 8.2%.

Next are 02125 in Dorchester and 02121, which includes parts of Dorchester and Roxbury, at 8.1%. East Boston, which had long had the highest rate in the city, is now at 7.7%.

Neighborhoods: 

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Comments

Glad the most vulnerable kids are staying in school. But this is a failure. They had 5 months to get ready for in person learning. Now there is little hope the kids will go back to school until there is a vaccine. A lost year for so many kids.

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I don’t think we can blame BPS for failure to contain Covid. When community spread is above specified rates there’s no way to convene hundreds of people in buildings without accelerating the spread.

Buildings should more modern and able to better support in-person models with lower virus rates. But that’s a failure of the city over the last fifty years, not any planning BPS could’ve done since March.

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The youngest kids should have gone back to school a month ago. BPS knew last spring that remote schooling was an abject failure, was a tremendous hardship for students and working parents, and only further widened the achievement gap. They also knew that as the weather cools and more people congregate indoors, a spike In infection rates was likely if not certain.

At the very least, the kids could have had spent time with teachers and established a framework upon which they could attempt to be successful at remote learning. Now it appears increasingly unlikely the kids will get any in person instruction. It’s essentially a lost year for the youngest students.

People love to focus on desk spacing, plastic barriers, ventilation, etc.

But the biggest factor by far that determines whether schools (or any other large gathering places!) are safe to open is the level of community spread. If infection rates are super low, then the chances a carrier will show up and spread it to others is also low.

Unfortunately, we never got to that place in Boston, even when case rates were at their lowest. BPS was put in an impossible position.

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Blame the people ignoring the COVID precautions. It's not the fault of the schools that Boston's infection rate keeps rising.

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Ohhh... so you're saying blame front line workers from poorer immigrant Boston communities like Hyde Park and Eastie who HAVE to work during the pandemic and thus are more at risk to getting the virus. However you don't think Boston's infection rate has anything to do with spoiled frat boys from out of state attending local who recklessly host large parties and spread the virus. Wake up to yourself.

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Please educate yourself before spouting off on a public forum do you don't embarrass yourself again.

The colleges have a combined positive rate of 0.06 percent (not 6 percent; 0.06 percent), mainly due to constant testing and retesting and isolation and quarantining procedures.

I would love for you to point to any sort of data or information that ties higher rates in some neighborhoods to workers.

For those who are interested in learning more about the failures of some neighborhoods to contain the virus, check out the city's data:

https://www.bphc.org/

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I like the new parody account you're running. The Scott Adams of Universal Hub.

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And what has the city decided to do bring down the positivity rate? If the threshold is 4% and kids won't go to school when it is that high, what's the plan to bring it down? Nothing?

Particularly the millennials who selfishly never joined in on mask wearing or social distancing.
So last June when we were warned we would be eating turkey pot pies by ourselves for Thanksgiving they weren’t kidding.

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Why is everyone always blaming the Millennials? I see far more older people walking around with not a mask in sight.

It really makes no sense. The union president and the health department entered an agreement that if over 4% (and Walsh uses a different criteria than Baker) that it would be remote learning for ALL! Why the most vulnerable, as your stated, are going to be allowed to go in is wrong. The BTU President stated that teachers don't have to go in with the rates being over 4%, so who is going to be in the buildings to teach the kids? You would think the City would be leading the pack as far as having their act together, but it is quite the opposite. The City had 5 months to try and come up with a plan, and the plan is we are flying by the seat of our pants.

I have a child who has gone back and from everything I can see, they are ready and have been doing a great job keeping the schools clean and keeping students separated as much as possible. It feels like my son is very safe. They can't help if the rates are up before they've even had a chance to open.

Statement from BTU President Jessica Tang:

In light of the positivity rate exceeding 4%, consistent with and in part resulting from troubling statewide and national trends in COVID-19 spread, we support the postponement of broadening in-person learning within the Boston Public Schools that the Mayor announced today.

Meanwhile, highest need students and families are our top priority right now – and we are in active dialogue with the Boston Public Schools to ensure we have the appropriate staffing in place to support those students and families, without violating the safety guidelines and agreement that the district and city themselves previously proposed and which was jointly agreed upon.

While the safety agreements agreed to by the City of Boston, BPHC, and the BTU make in-person work optional effective tomorrow and until the rates go below 4%, we do expect many educators will be opting to work in-person – despite the increasing risks – in order to support our highest need students while we work with stakeholders to establish a framework for safe, rational scheduling.

We are disappointed that recommendations we had previously put forward to establish a contingency plan for this scenario had not previously been adopted by BPS, despite educators putting forward many solutions to ensure we had scheduling plans in place in the event positivity rates exceed 4% as they now have.

Absent making immediate adjustments to reduce the number of non-essential staff entering school buildings, we are deeply concerned at this hour that the status quo and current approach may needlessly put thousands of staff and students in harm’s way, as we have seen multiple confirmed positive cases in the last four days.

Air quality tests must be released and independent facility inspections should be conducted right away before buildings are declared safe. Providing this critical air quality data is a matter of safety for the educators, parents, and students entering the buildings, and we are advocating for that data to be available as soon as possible and for that data to inform key decisions moving forward.

We are advocating to BPS that we work together to ensure staffing is designed and aligned in ways that minimizes the safety risk to students, educators, and the community, by taking an intentional approach to prioritizing essential staff going into buildings and minimizing non-essential staff.

That plan needs to be formalized quickly to bring certainty, sustainability, and safety to our schools, to parents, to educators, to students, and to the community.

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Applications are up at every private school in the area. Besides Boston, which doesn't have most kids in school at all, the more prestigious districts, like Newton or Wellesley, still only have kids in school a couple days a week.

Meanwhile, local private schools are stretching to accommodate bigger classes after record applications. Kids have been at school, in class, since the regular start dates. They have tents all over the grounds for running classes outside, cameras on the teachers for remote learners, even some sports. All following distance and mask protocols, all without outbreaks, all safe as can be.

There will be some obvious outcomes of this year: first, a gap in direct instruction has been created this year between private and public school kids. Some of the public school kids will receive almost an entire year less of direct instruction. Second, increased applications let private schools be choosier, and that may affect the demographic of kids moving away from public school to private school.

Private school parents should thank the teachers' unions for helping make the most of their children's advantages.

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Unfortunate, as per 2020 standards, that we didn’t take advantage of months of relatively low COVID for in school education. Not blaming anyone in particular, just unfortunate as the reality now is probably remote only through flu season for BPS.

I share concerns about public schools losing more well off families the longer this goes and the long-term ramifications of that for support for public school funding, equality, etc. The less fortunate are going to have a 1-2 year education gap. Society is not going to invest to catch them up. Reality is that funding for education is heading down in the near term, so the effects of this pandemic will go for generations. Parents are going to have to do the educating themselves, a tall ask given other demands.

Some private schools are operating without major incident so far, but with full student body testing as frequently as weekly, outdoor classes of 7-10 kids, smaller groups for transportation etc that simply aren’t possible in public schools with the resources available. Most private schools are still realistic about the reality that they will likely be remote/hybrid at some point over the coming winter. Asking the public schools to open because private schools have is not realistic even ex unions.

Finally, it is pretty obvious that we shouldn’t be progressing to phase 3/2. Much of Boston metro should be thinking seriously about tighter restrictions on gatherings and indoor activities and closures of non essential businesses. I know part of the state actions with opening are to try and prevent informal gathering, but perhaps a bigger stick is needed instead. I believe New York going up to as high as $15,000 fines for illegal gathering and eliminating warnings. Perhaps a progressive version of that using percent of income is worth considering.

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The bureaucracy and lack of statewide guidance and leadership has hurt the districts' ability to respond and we are absolutely seeing inequities between private schools and public schools that will linger and exacerbate the inequities we already have in Massachusetts.

Our small private school had nurses trained in contact tracing over the summer, staffed up to support remote learning, trained teachers in remote instruction, had an environmental audit in March-April when the shutdowns started, everything in place for full in person learning/simultaneous remote learning for kids at home starting on the usual school year start date. Students in pods to lower exposure. Daily symptom attestation, quarantining for positive cases. No outbreaks yet, 5 weeks in. If rates in the community keep going up we'll go to full remote for everyone.

It's possible to do school while the rates are low, as they are in most Mass. communities, but not with DESE and unions and lack of resources and decades of underinvestment in infrastructure and an unelected school committee (looking at you Boston) tying everyone's hands.

Thanks god, at least bars remain in in-person mode.

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Because, legally, bars aren't supposed to be open in Boston. Restaurants that serve liquor, yes, but the actual bars that you could belly up to? If you know of any, contact 311.

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Empty restaurant with a full bar.....

In case anyone is looking.

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I called 911 about a certain Hyde Park dive bar, and the operator noted that "so long as they are serving food, they can be open." Now, were the authorities to visit one of these establishments, the question could be how cold the food is, and as Adam noted in some article a while ago, what constitutes "food."

Of course, while most retail was closed in April and May, Target and Walmart were wide open because they have groceries in their stores. I bought some underwear one visit, so that's how well the whole "essential business" thing works.

It actually worked really well, rates were declining, then we decided to open nail salons, fine dining restaurants, and movie theaters. That has just worked out brilliantly, hasn't it?

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I got my hair cut in June, and in July I had a nice sit down meal with the family indoors at a restaurant. Yet somehow, rates stayed pretty low until late September. Methinks that these things, in of themselves, are not to blame for the uptick.

Not from what I consider Boston anyway. I hear running red lights is also illegal in that law abiding world class city.

I believe she meant to say "decompensating."

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