Boston Public Schools is suspending all in-person instruction beginning Thursday, as the citywide coronavirus positivity rate jumped to 5.7 percent last week, data released Wednesday reveals.
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Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced the shift to a fully remote learning model in an email to the school community, writing that students will attend classes virtually “until public health data shows a downward trend in positive COVID-19 cases.”
“We have said all along that we will only provide in-person learning for students if the data and public health guidance supports it, and this new data shows that we are trending in the wrong direction,” Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the metrics and work towards our goal of welcoming students back into our classrooms, learning among their peers, supported and educated by our dedicated staff.”
While the vast majority of students have already been attending school only online amid a steady uptick in virus cases, Walsh and school officials kept school buildings open to the district’s highest-needs students who were prioritized for the return to in-person learning.
Earlier this month, BPS twice delayed the start of its phased-in return to classrooms for the rest of its student body, citing the rising seven-day citywide positivity rate, which reflects the number of people who tested positive for the virus out of the total number of tests conducted.
The rate, which hit 4.1 percent by Oct. 7, rose to 4.5 percent the following week before rocketing up to 5.7 percent between Oct. 11 and 17, Boston Public Health Commission data shows.
“I am heartbroken that today we have to close our doors to our highest need students,” Cassellius said in a statement. “Our families are desperate for these services for their children, many of whom are non-verbal and unable to use technology in the home. We will work with the Boston Teachers Union and remain committed to providing in-person learning opportunities to our students as we are able, as we continue to prioritize our students with the highest needs for in-person learning.”
Officials said the positivity rate will need to drop to 5 percent or lower for two consecutive weeks before the families of students prioritized for in-person learning will be given the choice to return to school buildings.
The rate will have to fall to at least 4 percent for two consecutive weeks before the phased-in reopening can start for other students. Families would continue to have the option to have their students learn entirely remotely, should they want to do so.
“BPS will provide updates to plans as soon as they develop,” district officials said in a press release. “In addition, schools will work with families who may need to pick up technology or other personal items students may have left at school. The district is exploring options for providing services for our students with complex disabilities and will update families with more information in the coming days.”
The district kicked off the school year entirely remotely on Sept. 21. Students who were prioritized for in-person learning — including those experiencing homelessness; in the care of the Department of Children and Families; in special education public day schools; in English language learner programs; and with disabilities that require specific needs, among other demographics — returned to classrooms for two days a week beginning Oct. 1.
Those students were supposed to start in-person instruction four days a week on Thursday.
“I look forward to the broader Boston community doing its part in complying with the public health guidance and helping us bring this infection rate down so we can open our doors,” Cassellius said. “We need your help. Our children are depending on all of us.”
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