High-risk communities skeptical about state’s plan to reopen schools in April

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker’s announcement about getting elementary students in school by April may be good news to some cities, but for others like Somerville, it doesn’t mean much without the appropriate support. Somerville’s mayor said he was left shaking his head.

“When you’re not connected to what’s really happening and truly understand what the residents throughout are going through, this is the type of decisions you get,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone.

Curtatone said the governor’s announcement failed to reveal a specific plan, especially for communities like his that are fighting to stay out of the red zone.

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“Somerville, Salem, the Medford’s around the commonwealth, school districts have been basically told you got to figure it out on your own,” Curtatone said. “There’s been no plan and today’s not a plan. It’s another statement that we want to get kids back. Well, thank you, we know that. We all want to get kids back; it’s got to be safe. The teachers have to have confidence; there’s a lack of confidence. And it has to be sustainable, and they’re not given us the resources and tools to achieve that.”

“If there are teachers that have serious health concerns or issues, they should be, until they get vaccinated at least, given the opportunity not to have to come back into school,” said Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who is also fighting to stay out of the red zone.

“I understand what they’re saying. The schools are safe, but just giving teachers more sense of security if they had that ability to get vaccinated would definitely make them feel safer.”

These school districts in higher-risk zones are now left deciding if the governor’s goal is even feasible for them.

“You might all be done with COVID, it’s not done with us,” Curtatone said. “At the end of the day, transmission is happening in our schools between teachers, students and staff, and [it’s] what we can’t afford in a community like Somerville or other communities that are suffering. And it’s not people who look like me suffering the worst; it’s black and brown communities, and they’re dying and getting sick at higher rates.”

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Curtatone said they should be included in the decision-making. He said there should be more collaboration and coordination with educational leaders, school districts, and municipalities in both how to go back to school safely and in the vaccine rollout.

He also said he needs better testing and other mitigation measures like upgrades in the ventilation system, not just opening windows. He said without inclusion and these resources when they do go back, it won’t be sustainable and they will continue playing whack-a-mole.

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