Boston Public School officials downplayed the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak at the Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain prior to closing the school for 10 days, a move that also drew criticism from state education officials, who said they were slow to take action.
Parents, state officials and GBH News inquired about a potential outbreak at Curley and other schools as cases climbed. Rebecca Cline, a parent of a student at the school, wrote a letter to officials urging action as more children tested positive for COVID-19.
“Families have relied on word of mouth and informal sharing of information regarding the nature of spread of this significant outbreak,” Cline wrote in an email to officials on Monday. “This experience has eroded my confidence and that of many parents regarding the current BPS response.”
When GBH News asked BPS whether there were outbreaks that had occurred in the district the same day, BPS communications staff said that “there were a few schools that saw an uptick in confirmed positive cases,” but nothing that would be deemed an outbreak.
On Tuesday, school officials announced that the entire school would shutter for 10 days due to an outbreak of 46 cases spanning 21 classrooms.
BPS did not respond to request for comment about its earlier characterization of the outbreak. But district officials requested a waiver from the state asking for seven days of outbreak-related remote learning to count toward its required 180 days of learning this year. Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who cosigned the letter with other city officials, said the number of cases rose rapidly at Curley because Curley's school testing program became overwhelmed when more than 500 students a day needed testing. That meant some infected students remained in school before getting tested for COVID-19 or getting their results.
The state denied the request on Friday, saying it would grant the district only four of the seven days. Officials said the school would need to add the remaining three days to its school calendar.
In his response, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said the state was informed that Curley was experiencing a rise in cases on Nov. 4. The state then recommended that the district quarantine individual classrooms. The district did not, telling state officials that the rise in cases “did not warrant action at that time,” Riley said.
“It appears in the case of the Curley, a decision to close took place without appropriate consultation with DESE,” Riley wrote. “We have discussed the need for BPS to coordinate more robustly with DESE at the outset of any significant case increases going forward, to receive appropriate guidance related to COVID-19 protocols. As such, no future requests for waivers would be considered unless the district coordinates with DESE to follow the progressive process currently in use across the rest of the state.”
Riley said the district must begin setting up a testing program for returning students next week.