Just a week before Boston students are set to begin the school year, less than a quarter of the city’s public school students have submitted consent forms to participate in weekly coronavirus testing, a key mitigation strategy that city leaders say will help keep school buildings open and safe this coming year.
On Thursday, city and district leaders urged families to give consent to get the free testing. The city has only received signed forms for about 11,000 students, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said during a press conference at City Hall alongside other city and school leaders. There were 51,869 students enrolled in Boston Public Schools for the 2021-22 year as of Aug. 18.
“We strongly encourage all of our parents and caregivers to provide consent for their child to get weekly COVID-19 testing at school,” Cassellius said.
The testing is one of several coronavirus mitigation strategies the district will rely on this year. The city has also created a mask mandate regardless of vaccination status and a vaccine requirement for all educators and school staff. Plus, a $30 million investment will add to and upgrade heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems for school buildings.
Physical distancing will not be enforced in school buildings, though the district is encouraging three feet of separation wherever possible.
Due to a ban on remote learning statewide — apart from options that existed pre-pandemic — Boston will not offer any full-time remote or hybrid learning for students this year, unless they meet a narrow set of criteria to participate in home or hospital instruction programs. Students who need to quarantine as a result of COVID-19 will have access to tutoring services, technology, and classroom materials from their teachers, Cassellius said.
“While I’m very excited to welcome all of our students back into their classrooms, it’s important that we recognize that this is the third school year that is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Acting Mayor Kim Janey said during a press conference at City Hall.
“Despite best efforts, we know that remote learning cannot take the place of students being in the classrooms with their teachers and their friends,” she later added. “And this is especially true of our most vulnerable students.”
Cassandra Pierre, an associate hospital epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center, also spoke at the press conference, urging community members to get their children vaccinated as soon as they become eligible.
“We know that our children have experienced drastic changes to their academic and their social lives, and they are experiencing negative impacts from this pandemic that will last for years to come,” she said. “We owe it to them to ensure a safe environment, a safe school year, and a school year that will be uninterrupted by decreasing the number of COVID-19 infections to as low a rate as possible.”
Catherine De Jesús Martínez, an incoming senior at Boston International Newcomers Academy, said during the press conference that getting vaccinated gave her the confidence to go back in public again. She strongly encouraged her fellow classmates to get vaccinated, too.
“It is something safe,” she said, “and it is something that is going to help us return to the world we once knew.”