More than 100 Newton physicians and scientists, as well as a group of city councilors, have called on city officials to create a task force of local medical experts to advise efforts to safely bring all students back into classrooms for normal in-person instruction.
The demand comes as the city’s high schools prepare to start bringing back students to buildings later this month. The city’s elementary and middle schools opened up for partial in-person classes during the fall.
But the pace of Newton’s efforts to bring students into buildings — intended to help limit the potential transmission of COVID-19 among children, teachers, and staff ― has been criticized by some as insufficient.
Pointing to the efforts made in some other communities to draw upon the experience of their residents, the Newton group of experts offered their help and advocated for the safe resumption of in-person classes for students.
“We each have diverse areas of expertise and bring unique insight into the considerations of safe public education in this pandemic. We would like to help the City interpret emerging data and adapt to the rapidly evolving pandemic landscape,” the letter’s signers said.
The Jan. 7 letter, signed by more than 100 local physicians and scientists, was addressed to Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and other city leaders.
A group of more than a dozen city councilors followed up with their own call to Fuller and fellow officials supporting an expert advisory committee to guide reopening efforts.
The councilors pointed to what they said were similar efforts in Brookline, Milton, Salem, and Wellesley to draw upon the advice of medical experts.
In Newton, the city has access to residents who are “some of the foremost [medical] experts in the nation, if not the world,” councilors said in a Jan. 10 letter.
“We must avail ourselves of this assistance,” they said.
Fuller, in a statement, said the advocacy of residents and city councilors for in-person, safe teaching and learning with appropriate risk mitigation protocols is “widely shared.”
The city’s Health and Human Services Department and its public schools “will continue to use effective, fact-based approaches and protocols from trusted researchers, scientists and medical professionals,” Fuller said. “That’s how we can fully reopen sooner rather than later.”
In the medical experts’ letter, the signers said the city will need several strategies in place to bring students back into school buildings.
Among them are to develop “data-driven” benchmarks to guide reopening of buildings, and to provide COVID-19 testing for staff and teachers, and potentially students. The city also will need to provide educational programs and guidance for vaccine distribution for eligible individuals, the letter said.
They recognized that the process of “fully reopening schools” will be challenging and complex, according to the letter.
The explicit purpose of an expert task force, the letter signers said, would be to follow the “best available scientific and medical evidence” to safely maintain and further expand in-person learning.
“This will help the community navigate re-opening, ensuring consistent, transparent communication to rebuild trust,” according to the letter.
“We stand ready to help Newton employ science to navigate our way through this pandemic and the process of reopening our schools,” they said.
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.