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‘Our rates are going in the wrong direction to have in-person learning,’ Walsh warns of Boston schools

Liv Chaffee, center, a teacher at Blackstone School, waves at passerby while standing with friend and colleague Nikki McMaster. Teachers, parents, and community members gathered in Dorchester on Saturday to demand the closure of all schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to allocate the safest buildings in the district to provide in-person services for the high-needs students.
Liv Chaffee, center, a teacher at Blackstone School, waves at passerby while standing with friend and colleague Nikki McMaster. Teachers, parents, and community members gathered in Dorchester on Saturday to demand the closure of all schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to allocate the safest buildings in the district to provide in-person services for the high-needs students.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh reminded residents — once again — on Thursday to take the coronavirus seriously, warning them that the city’s virus positivity rate could keep students from returning to school buildings if it doesn’t improve.

“I was on a radio show last night and a freshman at Boston Latin School called me and she stressed to me that she wants to be in-person learning,” Walsh said during a press conference outside City Hall. “Our rates are going in the wrong direction to have in-person learning. We need to take this virus seriously.”

Boston Public Schools have not said exactly how many coronavirus cases have been identified within the school district, but a spokesman said Wednesday that there have been “a small number of confirmed positive cases” since Oct. 1 when in-person learning began. Starting Friday, the city is expected to begin publishing a dashboard that will document the number of coronavirus cases among people “connected to in-person learning” in Boston.

Boston Public Schools reopened for the academic year on Sept. 21, though the vast majority of students are learning remotely. About 2,600 high-needs students, which includes those with disabilities, English learners, and those facing homelessness or involvement with child protective services, began returning to classrooms earlier this month.

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On Oct. 7, city leaders decided to delay the next phase of the city’s school reopening plan, which would have allowed prekindergartners and kindergartners to start attending in-person school on Thursday. The earliest they’ll now return is Oct. 22, Walsh and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius have said, though it’s not clear if they’ll stick to that schedule.

Boston’s coronavirus positivity rate rose for the week ending Oct. 10 to 4.4 percent — up from 4.1 percent the week before.

“We continue to serve our highest needs students who depend on it for their health and safety on in-person service, and we will not increase the number of students in school unless the public health guidelines allow us to," Walsh said.

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Walsh urged the Boston community to work together to contain the virus and stay home when feeling sick. Educators and children should both be staying home if they feel sick, he said.

Walsh was also asked Thursday about his thoughts on the Boston Teachers Union’s denied request for an injunction, which sought to allow Boston educators to choose to work remotely when the city’s virus rate is above 4 percent. The lawsuit, filed last week, named both the mayor and superintendent as defendants.

The teachers union had alleged that city leaders were violating their coronavirus safety agreement by requiring some educators to be inside school buildings while the city’s virus rate is about the 4 percent threshold. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Robert Gordon denied the union’s request Wednesday.

“It’s unfortunate that we had to have a court action yesterday, but I understand it,” he said. “But I think that really honestly the only ones that lose out here are our kids if we can’t get to an understanding.”


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.