In a dramatic turnaround that is likely to shake up the lives of tens of thousands of families and children, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Friday that all the city’s schools will close for six weeks in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Boston Public Schools, with 54,000 students, will close starting on Tuesday and remain shuttered until April 27, after spring vacation, Walsh said during an evening press conference surrounded by teachers, health experts and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius.
“We have determined that now is the time to take bold action, and slow the spread of the virus,” Walsh said.
The school may re-open sooner if safe, he added.
City Councilor Michelle Wu, whose son Blaise attends Sumner School, a BPS elementary school in Roslindale, said in a Friday statement that “Every day matters in this public health crisis, and early actions to slow the spread will save lives.”
She added, “Schools are more than a place for our students to learn; they’re a support system for families. So it’s important to move forward with public health protections that also prioritize supports for families and kids.”
Boston’s nearly 125 schools will be open on Monday for a regular school day. Parents will have the next few days to plan for childcare and other needs, according to the mayor.
The city is developing lesson plans for students to take home and still finalizing ways to ensure that the thousands of children who rely on school services, including daily meals, don’t go hungry, Walsh said.
The city expects to notify parents with those details on Sunday, Walsh said.
Walsh had been more reticent in recent days about closing Boston schools, even as surrounding suburban districts have shut down their schools for a few days to two weeks, for cleanings and to limit exposure to the virus.
Walsh said he and school officials have been discussing closing Boston’s schools for the past several days, but the district is complex and student needs far more extensive than elsewhere. Many of the city’s students rely on the schools for breakfast and lunch, for example.
Earlier this week, Eliot School in the North End was closed on the recommendation of public health officials, although there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Boston schools.
But Walsh’s announcement Friday, marks a far more aggressive approach to the worsening news about the coronavirus. Many districts in the state are shutting down for just two weeks.
Walsh said those districts will likely have to reconsider their plans.
Walsh’s appearance came hours after the number of Massachusetts cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, rose to 123. Most of those cases have been traced to a Biogen meeting at a Boston hotel at the end of February. Twenty-five cases as of Friday were in Boston, Walsh said Friday.
Jessica Tang, Boston Teachers Union president, in a Friday night letter to her membership, said that the school district’s staff are expected to report Wednesday through Friday of next week without students to “continue preparing alternative learning plans for the extended closure, after which educators will be asked to work remotely.” For those three days next, staff who report to their jobs “will be able to practice safe social distancing and will not be asked to convene in large groups.
Tang said the district’s schools were being cleaned Friday evening and would be cleaned again next Tuesday, when all BPS schools would be closed.
“We are meeting over the weekend to continue to work out details,” said Tang, whose union has more than 7,500 members. “The situation has changed rapidly and may continue to.”
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