By: Ciara McAuliffe — Managing Editor
After a holiday break filled with social gatherings, schools across the country tackled the same question: how to effectively and safely open up schools during the omicron surge.
Boston Public Schools welcomed students back on Tuesday. To ensure a safe return, Mayor Michelle Wu and Dr. Brenda Cassellius, superintendent, worked with school officials to prepare packets with COVID-19 testing kits and KN-95 masks to give out to teachers and staff.
“The plan right now is to assess each school case by case,” Cassellius said. “If I have to go out and teach in the classroom, I’m going to do that. But our goal is to keep classes going and keep students in-person.” More than 1,100 BPS staff members and 29% of students were absent on Wednesday. Superintendent Cassellius found herself teaching a class of fourth graders about poetry and geometry at Nathan Hale Elementary School in Roxbury.
The district also faced staff shortages on the transportation front. “This is a historically challenging time of year as bus drivers return from their vacations, and so it is historically a difficult week for us,” said Casselius.
Governor Baker said that the National Guard has been offered up to help drive buses in districts throughout the state. “They did it in many communities. Boston by the way, turned down the opportunity to participate with the National Guard on that program,” said Baker. Wu pushed back, saying national guard drivers are only licensed to drive seven-passenger vans, not large school buses. “It was simply not an offer that we could benefit from at all,” said Wu.
While Wu believes in-person learning is a better option for students, she says at some point it could become unmanageable to keep classrooms staffed. If that happens, the district may have to return to remote.
Governor Baker said Monday that remote learning is not an option. Some say he should reconsider. “It just might not be possible to have enough kids and enough staff in school to have in-person learning,” said Dr. Lisa Dobberteen, medical director at Cambridge Public Health Department.
While school districts such as BPS struggled with staff shortage, others found most of their difficulty in identifying and notifying students and staff members with COVID. Cambridge delayed the start of school for two days in an effort to test everyone Monday and then review the results on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, however, they did not obtain test results for 3,5000 students.
“This means that there are at least 157 positive individuals, but there could be well over 1,000,” said superintendent Dr. Victoria Greer. According to spokeswoman Sujata Wycoff, 27 percent of students were absent Wednesday.