The Curley School in Jamaica Plain is temporarily shutting down due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the first Boston Public School to go remote in the 2021-2022 academic year.
With the speed and size of the outbreak — 46 cases spread across 21 classrooms in just over two weeks — BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius told families in a virtual meeting Tuesday night that it had become uncontainable. Students at the K-8 school will be learning remotely for nearly two weeks starting Wednesday, until classes resume on Monday, Nov. 22.
Some parents said they were dismayed to have to deal with remote learning again, even temporarily, after the last school year was fully remote. Cassellius said she knew how hard it was, having been a single mother herself for 10 years.
“I understand how difficult it is to find care right now,” Cassellius said. “This was the safest decision that we could make for your families and for the entire community at the Curley School. And we did not make this lightly — this is a really difficult decision to make because we know families, unfortunately, have carried a lot of the burden of this pandemic.”
Cassellius told reporters earlier on Tuesday that BPS had recently quadrupled its contact tracing capacity from 1,000 to 4,000 investigations per month.
A letter to the school community from Principal Katie Grassa advised that anyone who had been on campus should “self-isolate and avoid groups or gatherings, this includes community activities such as practices and social events, for at least five days and until you receive a negative COVID-19 test, regardless of vaccination status.”
One student, 5-year-old Amara Germain, told GBH News she had mixed feelings about going remote. “I wanted to play with all my friends.”
Her mother, Keeana Saxon, is one of the three chairs of the school parent council. Going back to remote learning was disappointing for some parents she was chatting with at Tuesday’s meeting, but she said that they also recognized the importance of containing the outbreak.
“Rather than allowing it to spread to a place where it’s uncontrollable, I think it’s better that we shut down sooner rather than later,” Saxon said. “At least we know that the Boston Public Health Commission and the Boston Public Schools and [leaders] at the Curley [School] itself, that they’re trying as hard as possible to ensure that all of the staff and the students are safe.”
Some parents in Tuesday’s meeting expressed concern over the potential for missed school days. Cassellius said that the state Education Department doesn’t currently recognize remote learning as “a valid official learning day,” but added that she has been in contact with state commissioner of elementary and secondary education Jeffrey Riley and will be meeting with his team Wednesday to make the case for an exception.
“[We’ll] continue to impress upon him [Riley] that our teachers are awesome at remote learning and remote teaching, as well as in-person teaching,” she said. “It was critical to us after children have lost so much over these nearly two years that we do a continuation of their learning and that we don't miss a beat here for our kids.”