Curtatone, Novick slam state guidance on reopening

For months, school districts were struggling to decide whether to reopen schools in person, with little guidance from the state as to what thresholds to use to make that decision. Now, with the first state guidance emerging as to which of three plans to choose — remote, hybrid, or in person — based on a colored-coded map, some officials are saying it is too little, too late.

“Whether it’s Worcester or Somerville or New Bedford or Gloucester, this has been dumped on us by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the governor and the Commonwealth,” said Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. “There is no plan.”

Worcester School Committee member Tracy Novick agreed. “In terms of local government being left to fend for itself, that’s really been the experience of all of us in local government over the past several months,” Novick said. “Now here we are, the beginning of August, we’re supposed to be making plans and two days before the plans are due, suddenly we have this map that’s supposed to say magically everything is fine?”

On this week’s Codcast, Curtatone and Novick talked about the challenges of crafting school reopening plans. Both Somerville and Worcester decided to start the year remotely. While Gov. Charlie Baker has been urging most school districts to reopen in person, both officials said part of their calculation was the lack of state resources that would have allowed them to reopen safely.

“If we’re going to try to live in this new normal, if we want to get our kids back, reopen parts of our economy, we have to do it in a way that’s sustainable and safe, but we don’t have the tools in place to do that as we speak today,” Curtatone said.

Curtatone said schools cannot reopen without more surveillance testing, to determine how prevalent COVID-19 actually is in the community. “We cannot know how the pandemic or COVID is impacting our school population, in our general population, without having the diagnostic guidance from testing available to see how it is spreading,” Curtatone said.

Novick agreed that there needs to be more extensive COVID-19 testing as well as contact tracing available before anyone returns to a school building. “The countries that have made this work have extensive contact tracing and have extensive testing. And we don’t have that either,” Novick said.

Novick said if quick testing is unavailable, someone thought to have been exposed to the virus has to quarantine for 14 days. If that happens once or twice, a child can be marked truant and a teacher can use up all their sick days. “We can’t run a district like that,” Novick said.

Both also noted that school buildings often do not have adequate air flow or HVAC systems, which could lead to virus transmission.

Somerville, ranked green or low-risk on the governor’s map, was one of the first communities to decide to start school with fully remote learning. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is urging all green communities to return to some form of in-person learning.

Worcester is ranked yellow, or moderate-risk, so state guidelines are that it should begin with hybrid learning, or remote learning in extenuating circumstances.

Both Curtatone and Novick expressed frustration with the map. “I don’t know of any expert who hasn’t told us you cannot look at one data point or one metric. We have to look at this holistically,” Curtatone said. He added that Somerville is just two miles away from the high-risk communities of Everett and Chelsea, so ranking Somerville low-risk is like people in New York saying that “what happens in Queens doesn’t matter in Brooklyn.” “Our teachers are coming from all these same communities. We’re riding the same transit system,” he said.

Novick said ranking counties would make more sense than ranking municipalities. “None of our cities are islands and to pretend that they are is ridiculous,” she said.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Damali Vidot, a Chelsea city councilor, takes on incumbent Rep. Dan Ryan of Charlestown in a Democratic primary that raises issues of racial diversity in representation and how progressive voters want their candidate to be.

COVID-19 spreading fastest among those in their 20s and 30s. Meanwhile, at least 130 false positives turn up at testing lab, which changes the Baker administration’s municipal rankings. Fall River falls to yellow and Taunton goes from yellow to green.

Secretary of State William Galvin mixes politics with promotion in his office’s public service announcements.

Should medical marijuana retailers have to grow their own pot?

Opinion: Boston City Councilor Julia Mejiia and Boston Teachers Union official Michael Maguire say there is a third way to get to a more representative Boston School Committee…. To depoliticize the development process in Boston, Peter O’Connor says every project shouldn’t start from scratch on planning and zoning….Joel Wool offers some interesting thoughts on the advocacy of regulators….Marie-Frances Rivera of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center says Massachusetts should raise taxes for a fair recovery.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Hat tip to former CommonWealth colleague Robert Sullivan, who flagged a fascinating new analysis of how the pandemic is hitting municipal budgets of 150 major US cities. Boston ranks dead-last (which is good) in estimates of the decline in revenue for fiscal 2021 — just over 4 percent — largely due to its reliance on stable revenue sources like property taxes as opposed to heavily tourist-dependent sources, sales taxes, or state aid. (New York Times)

City Councilor Michelle Wu is calling on her colleagues to reject three of the four picks Mayor Marty Walsh has made for Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal, arguing they wouldn’t qualify for slots under the home-rule reform plan the city has sent to the Legislature for approval. (Boston Herald)

The city of Boston is contracting with an East Boston factory to manufacture PPE for front-line workers. (Boston Globe)

Brockton backyards have become open-air nightclubs amid the pandemic and residents are worried the crowds will cause COVID-19 to spread. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Massachusetts health insurers report millions of dollars in profits as individuals defer health care procedures. (Boston Business Journal)

Boston City Councilor Liz Breadon is worried that the thousands of returning Boston area college students who will be living off-campus — many in her Allston-Brighton district — won’t be getting regular coronavirus tests like their on-campus classmates. (Boston Herald)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will call the House back into session this week from its summer recess to vote on legislation to block changes at the US Postal Service that voting advocates say could upend efforts by Americans to vote this fall by mail. (New York Times) Attorney General Maura Healey may join with other state AGs in legal action to try to prevent postal service cuts. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

The Intercept publishes an explosive story alleging that top figures in the Massachusetts Democratic Party helped the College Democrats of Massachusetts launch their allegations against Democratic congressional candidate Alex Morse, accusing him of inappropriate relationships with students. Meanwhile, UMass hires an independent lawyer to investigate the allegations against Morse, a former lecturer there. (Associated Press) And Holyoke city councilor Michael Sullivan is calling for the city, where Morse is mayor, to investigate Morse. (MassLive) The Springfield Republican’s Patrick Johnson looks at the larger issue of whether faculty at universities should be having sex with students.

The Telegram & Gazette profiles State Rep. Danielle Gregoire of the 4th Middlesex District, and her opponent, first-time candidate and environmental scientist Jeanne Cahill.

A new poll by UMass Amherst/WCVB finds that Gov. Charlie Baker remains enormously popular and people overall approve of his handling of COVID-19. (MassLive)

Candidates seeking to win the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ Fourth Congressional District participated in three WGBH forums.

The Globe looks at ranked-choice voting, a new election system that voters will be asked to approve or reject in the November 3 general election. A candidate who dropped out of the crowded Fourth Congressional District race last week cited the absence of ranked-choice voting system as a reason for his exit.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows the Biden-Harris ticket with a 12 point lead, 53-41, over Trump-Pence as the two parties prepare for their virtual national conventions. (Washington Post)

EDUCATION

Parents are slamming the Boston Public Schools for leaving them in limbo about plans for the start to the school year. (Boston Herald)

There is a growing backlog of students waiting to take the SAT and ACT because testing centers have been cancelling test dates or having limited availability. (The Salem News)

High school football coaches are angry that the state is allowing some high school sports, but not football. (Telegram & Gazette)

Experts are concerned about social development for children stuck at home, and how they will pick up certain social skills without being around each other. (Patriot Ledger)

YMCA waitlists grow as school districts adopt remote and hybrid learning approaches for the start of school. (WBUR)

ARTS/CULTURE

Author Larry Tye recounts a blissful moment out of his basement writing bunker for a socially-distant outdoor book tour event at the summer league baseball park in Cotuit, where he lives. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

Residents worry that their property will be needed to build two new bridges that could replace the Bourne and Sagamore structures. (Cape Cod Times)

A Boston Globe editorial calls for everyone to come together on how to design the replacement for the crumbling elevated section of the Massachusetts Turnpike between Boston University and the Charles River, even though the sides seem very far apart.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Globe editorial defends the Massachusetts Bail Fund. Last week, CommonWealth spotlighted the case that set off debate over the group’s work, and raised similar questions to those posed in the editorial.

PASSINGS

Robert Trump, the president’s younger brother who avoided the spotlight, dies at age 71. (NPR)