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BPS, teachers agree on pact to reopen schools

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
BPS, teachers agree on pact to reopen schools
Boston Public Schools will institute a phased reopening beginning in March. BANNER FILE PHOTO

As of Jan. 11, there were 7,365 active COVID-19 cases in the city of Boston, up by nearly 1,000 after a short dip to 6,539 cases on Jan. 5. As numbers increase and stay high, the Boston School Committee has unveiled a new plan for extending safety protocols in the school buildings that are open and reconfiguring the larger reopening plan.

Starting Feb. 1, all students who qualify for high in-person priority will be allowed back in the classroom. On March 1 and 4, students from kindergarten to grade 3 from both groups A and B designated in the original reopening plan, will go back as well. Grades 4–8 will return starting March 15, and grades 9–12 will return the week of March 29.

The Boston Teachers Union announced Monday that the timeline is tentative. Other agreements between the union and Boston Public Schools include fully committing to these safety protocols:

Ensuring social distancing through scheduling and capacity limits

Providing air purifiers and increasing air quality testing

Providing more PPE for students and staff

Providing free COVID-19 testing onsite or nearby

Continuing to report all positive cases in the BPS community

As of the week of Jan. 6, there are still fewer than five cases per school among students or staff to report in all 126 schools. There are 109 cases to date in BPS and there were seven cases recorded between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6.

“The best learning environment for our students is in their classrooms, with their peers, under the care of our educators and staff,” BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a press release. “Our announcement today provides stability and clarity for our students, families, and the entire BPS community. I am thankful to [BTU] President Tang for her leadership on this agreement and appreciative of the dedicated work of the High In-Person Priority Task Force, our school leaders, educators and staff who work tirelessly every day.”

BTU President Jessica Tang also expressed her support for the new plan.

“Throughout the pandemic, BTU educators have long advocated for and emphasized the importance and value of returning to in-person learning, especially for our highest-need students,” she said. “This framework adopts important safety standards that union educators have been advocating for on a system-wide basis in order to protect the learning experience and health of not just our high-needs students, but of all students, educators, and families throughout Boston and beyond.”

This announcement comes a week after Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration announced a pooled testing initiative for schools across the state. Pooled testing is taking several individual tests and pooling them together and using that sample for a single Sars-Cov-2 test. If that test comes back positive, then individuals take another test and are given individual results.

Those with positive tests will isolate and contact tracing will be done. If the pooled test comes back negative, everyone can return to their hybrid in-person learning. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will distribute the tests to schools and districts that are prioritizing in-person learning, and they will also assume the cost. The tests will be available within the next month and will occur weekly for schools that participate.

According to the site, “Interested districts and schools have until January 15 to notify DESE of their participation in the program.”