Curtatone, Novick slam state guidance on reopening
Say Baker’s new color-coded map is too little, too late
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.
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.