Closed for COVID, J.P. school might have to make up days

DESE requires waiver to operate out of classroom

BOSTON — Vanessa Clark has been through this before. But that doesn’t make the prospect of virtual learning for her two daughters any easier, except for the promise it won’t go on forever.

“This is for 10 days versus a whole entire school year,” Clark said. “So that’s a little bit more comforting.”

Clark’s daughters attend the Curley School in Jamaica Plain, which, until at least November 22, has closed its doors to in-classroom learning because of a growing problem with COVID.

Clark watched the outbreak grow in e-mails she said kept coming week after week.

“One e-mail, maybe even two e-mails every week,” Clark said. “They don’t specify whether it’s a kid or an adult. They just say a member of the Curley School who has entered the building. They don’t tell you who it is. Which, I get that. But they also don’t let you know whether it’s somebody in your class, in your child’s class, or an adult, they don’t let you know that.”

The Boston Teachers Union has a similar complaint.

“We’ve heard from our members that the contact tracing that really should be happening to keep our schools open and safe is not happening in the way that it should be,” said Erik Berg, executive vice-president of the Boston Teachers Union. “And we urge the city and state to ensure that effective contact tracing, at least insofar as the schools go, is happening so that those who are close contacts can get tested immediately.”

Contact tracing, once regarded as a pillar of pandemic containment, has become increasingly difficult to effectively accomplish as lockdowns have been lifted and variants have become more contagious.

The COVID problems at the Curley school have not escaped the state’s attention. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) told Boston 25 News earlier this week it deployed more support personnel to help with the school’s pooled testing and ‘Test and Stay’ programs - both designed to keep kids in school. The agency also said it sent an emergency supply of test kits to Curley.

The temporary closure of Curley makes it only one of two schools in the entire state to shut down because of COVID for seven days this school year, DESE said.

And unless the district gets a waiver from the agency, the school days spent learning virtually at home will not count towards the school year. That does not sit well with Vanessa Clark.

“If these days don’t count then that means [at] the end of the school year they’re going to have to go to school up until almost July,” she said. “That, to me, that’d be unfair.”

So far, DESE said Boston Public Schools has not applied for such a waiver.

“In general, a school in this situation would need to make up days or would need to apply for a waiver from DESE to have remote days count for required student learning time.”

A BPS spokesperson, Jonathan Palumbo said “We have another meeting with DESE today to work through options. Our main focus is on ensuring we stop the spread and provide access to learning and support services to students, which we announced yesterday. We will partner with the state on next steps and let you know how this develops.”

On Wednesday afternoon, a DESE spokesperson released more information about the state’s involvement with the Curley School.

“The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has made free testing resources available to all districts across the Commonwealth to help students remain safely in the classroom, and over 100,000 schools days have been saved through the nation-leading test and stay program. The Boston Public Schools testing programs are fully staffed with support from CIC, DESE and BPS staff, and the testing program at the Curley School was fully staffed with six onsite staff from the testing vendor CIC,” said Colleen Quinn, DESE spokeswoman.

“This Monday evening, DESE was made aware by BPS of the request for additional staff at the Curley School, and by Tuesday morning, DESE had five additional staff on site. The Department will continue to work with the district to ensure they have the appropriate support staff to continue testing students and address any issues that arise so all students can remain in classrooms throughout the school year,” said Quinn.

Only one other school, the Holyoke Community Charter School, has temporarily closed down for 7 days due to COVID cases.

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