Boston Public Schools students will have the option of returning to in-person learning in phases between February and March, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius told reporters Thursday.
Cassellius, appearing with Mayor Martin J. Walsh at his regular press conference, said that starting on Feb. 1, approximately 4,900 students with “high in-person priority needs” will be invited back to learn in-person. The district initially announced the new timeline on Monday.
Students in this category, she said, include “high-need level four students with disabilities;” English language learners at levels one and two; students in the care of the state Department of Children and Families; those experiencing homelessness; students with “limited or interrupted formal education;” and students “identified by” their schools and student support teams for “additional in-person learning.”
Casselius said some students with high in-person priority needs will learn in school four days a week, while others “will choose to still be in person for two days a week.”
Then the following month the effort broadens.
“Four weeks later we plan to welcome back the remainder of our students every two weeks, beginning with our youngest learners,” she said. “The week of March 1, all students [pre-K] to Grade 3 will have the option of returning. The week of March 15, all students in grades 4 through 8 will have the option of returning, and the week of March 29, we will begin bringing back our high school students.”
Families who choose to stick with remote learning can, she said. She also noted that the timeline could change based on the COVID-19 public health data.
“If necessary, any of these phases may be postponed based on the current public health environment and the advice of [the] Boston [Public] Health Commission,” Cassellius said. “Our plan has always prioritized parent choice. That’s why parents can opt in or opt out of the hybrid model.”
Cassellius said school officials have been working tirelessly to prepare buildings to welcome back more students for in-person learning.
The health and safety protocols, she said, include “limiting the number of students and faculty in a building to ensure social distancing, instituting creative scheduling and staffing to ensure the health and safety of our students, providing air purifiers or HVAC filters for our schools, increasing air quality testing and reporting, installing data loggers for on-time real quality air quality measures in our schools, delivering additional personal protective equipment for students and staff, [and] offering access to free COVID testing for teachers on-site or [at a] nearby school.”
The superintendent also urged adult Bostonians to continue taking precautions against the spread of COVID-19, so the timeline won’t get pushed back.
“We need adults to change their behavior,” she said. “We need you to help so we can all be safe and open safely. So please, let’s all do our part. Because together if we all adhere to the public health [guidelines] by wearing our masks, by keeping our distance, avoiding small gatherings, washing our hands ... or, if we’re not feeling well, for sure staying home, we will lessen the spread. It’s going to take all of us. Let’s do this for our kids. They deserve nothing less.”
City Health and Human Services Chief Marty Martinez also briefed reporters and thanked Cassellius for her “leadership” on the school reopening front.
Martinez also noted that the second phase of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout will include K-12 educators.
“We are doubling down on making sure that Bostonians can do our very best together and following public health guidance,” Martinez said.
He added that currently, the city has about 420 COVID-positive patients in its health care system, down from between 1,500 and 1,600 in the spring.
“When we think about essential services like educating students who need in-person learning we have to make sure we’re balancing all of these metrics,” Martinez said. “We know Bostonians are tired ... but the reality is that we’ve got to focus on essential services, and educating students in person who are high needs is an essential service and we think we can do it under the current conditions.”