As more and more Boston-area schools announced this week that they would be closing for two weeks — or in Everett’s case, a month — Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that the state is not looking at a blanket order to close all Massachusetts schools down to stem the outbreak of coronavirus.
“Shutting down does not appear to be appropriate at this time,” Baker said.
During an afternoon press conference, Baker said the state’s education department spoke with superintendents throughout Massachusetts, and issued detailed guidance about how districts should respond to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, including when to close schools, and for how long.
“Our public health officials do not recommend school systems shut down systemwide at this time,” Baker said. “They recommend careful monitoring of students and temporary closures to allow for schools to clean and reopen.”
When a journalist followed up with a question about why all schools weren’t closing, Baker responded:
“We spent a lot of time with the public health folks talking about this, and the basic conclusion from that conversation was people should be making that decision based on the facts associated with that school. In other words, if you have a parent who has tested positive and they have kids in your school, they make recommendations with respect to that. If you have a child in the school who has tested positive, they have recommendations with respect to that. If you have a parent in more than one school who’s been tested positive, they make recommendations with respect to that. But their overarching recommendation from a public health point of view is that shutting schools down completely does not appear to be the appropriate thing to do at this time.”
Baker said the health department is taking a “surgical and fact-based approach” to make the calls on whether to close certain schools, and “not to just do a blanket across-the-board decision.”
When pressed further on why such an overarching call wasn’t being considered, Baker pointed to the recommendations from the health department.
“The recommendation I’m getting is that would not be in the best interest of the commonwealth, or the kids, or the schools, from a public health point of view,” Baker said. “Their recommendation to us is to choose to offer guidance ... to operate under those guidelines, but not to make a decision that says everybody, now, should close.”
Baker’s comments come as nearly two dozen municipal leaders in Greater Boston sent a letter to Baker Thursday urging him to close all schools in the state.
“We feel strongly that if each municipality is left to respond to the crisis on their own, this ad hoc response will generate panic and confusion among our residents," said the letter signed by 22 mayors and city managers, including leaders from Brookline, Somerville, Everett, and Cambridge.
However, there’s another side to the debate not mentioned by Baker. For many families, school is more than a place to educate children: It provides critical daycare for many parents who still have to report to work, and provides a meal service in its cafeterias that can be crucial to some who might not have access otherwise.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said earlier Friday that the city’s schools were not planning to close, noting during an announcement about the Boston Marathon that “there will be school Monday and there will be school next week.”
Walsh did say that on Sunday, he would be “laying out a plan for if we have to close the schools and also how we’re going to be moving forward next week and beyond.”
On Wednesday, during an appearance on CNN, Walsh told Wolf Blitzer that 80 percent of city students are from low-income communities and rely on free or subsidized lunches, and said he wanted “to make sure have a plan to get the food to those kids.”
Walsh also said the city is looking at how to implement online learning if needed, noting that the high school level has the “potential” for it, but added that it would be “a little more difficult” for lower grades.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo on Friday ordered all public schools in her state to move their scheduled April vacations up to next week, saying the closures will allow districts to clean their facilities and plan for virtual learning.
Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.