This is what school will look like in Massachusetts’ 5th largest district

BROCKTON, Mass. — West Middle School Principal Carlton Campbell said he didn’t take COVID-19 as seriously as he should have until it was too late.

“I felt like a fool afterward. I said I’ll never do this to my family again, put them in harm’s way. I was not happy with myself,” Campbell said.

The 52-year-old said he caught the virus in February from another faculty member. Campbell was aware of the risks but said he wasn’t as vigilant with mask-wearing as he is now. Campbell, who suffers from asthma, said he brought COVID-19 home and infected five other family members.

“It hit me hard. It hit my wife really hard,” Campbell said. “It was worse than having pneumonia…I thought this could be it.”

Campbell and his family recovered and now he’s working with other school administrators to prevent outbreaks in the classroom.

The Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education released COVID-19 guidance for districts across the state earlier in the summer. DESE lifted social distancing requirements and the state is encouraging schools to maintain ventilation upgrades from last year, continue hand hygiene practices and extend policies for students and staff to stay home when sick.

Boston 25 toured the inside of West Middle School in March to see how Massachusetts’ 5th largest school district adapted to the pandemic. Five months later, the plexiglass has come down, the lunch tables are closer together and there are air purifiers throughout the building.

“This is huge. This gets the job done,” Campbell said after switching on one of the large purifiers in the cafeteria.

The school used zip ties to close all the lockers last spring to keep kids from gathering in groups. Those zip ties will stay there this fall, but students will be back in their normal classrooms rather than spread out in the gymnasium and auditorium.

Administrators will also continue to utilize an enclosed space known as the Safe Room where children are sent if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The room sits up to six students. Campbell said the room came in handy last spring; 30 kids went home with symptoms in a single day.

“A lot of cases, yeah,” Campbell said. “Our safe room was used at least two to three times a week last year.”

Brockton Superintendent Mike Thomas said he feels more confident this fall because if there is another surge, the district can pivot to remote learning.

“Obviously we’re concerned because it’s always my number one job to keep people safe,” Thomas said. “If there’s an issue where a school has a spike and the Board of Health says you’ve really got to send everybody home, we can switch to remote learning like that.”

Campbell said he learned to never underestimate the virus.

“It’s a journey,” Campbell said. “We don’t know when the journey is going to end.”

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