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Curley School in Jamaica Plain to stay closed following virus outbreak; remote learning to continue

The state’s education commissioner had asked for students to return sooner

The Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain abruptly closed down Tuesday after a COVID-19 outbreak.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools will keep the Curley K-8 School shuttered and remote learning in place until Nov. 22 following an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, the city announced Saturday, dismissing the state education commissioner’s call to reopen the building on Wednesday.

After dozens of positive cases were reported, city officials closed the Jamaica Plain school once classes ended Tuesday, saying the school would switch to remote learning for seven days. However, state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has only allowed four days of remote learning.

On Sunday, Riley communicated with Boston schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius and reaffirmed that only four days will count toward state-required learning time for the school year, according to a statement.


“It is unfortunate BPS could not find a way to safely bring students back sooner, and the commissioner is particularly concerned about students with disabilities and high needs who are most likely to struggle with remote learning when they are not able to receive services in person,” said spokeswoman Colleen Quinn in the statement.

Katie Grassa, Curley’s principal, said in a message to school families Sunday night that the school will remain closed “for the health and safety of our students, staff, and community.” It will return to in-person learning Nov. 22, she said. ”We are committed to keeping you updated throughout the week as we work with DESE and other partners to secure COVID testing and vaccines,” Grassa said.

The faceoff between state and city officials has frustrated Curley parents and staff, including leaders of the Boston Teachers Union.

On Sunday, hundreds signed an online petition written by Curley parent Jocelyn Stanton that called on state officials, including Governor Charlie Baker, to count all seven remote-learning days as part of the 180-day academic year required in Massachusetts schools.

“We love and trust our educators to deliver effective remote instruction for all 7 days of this closure,” the petition said. “Please honor their hard work by acknowledging they have successfully provided high-quality education in these most difficult circumstances.”


On Saturday, Cassellius and Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, who leads the city’s Public Health Commission, said that if Riley did not reconsider, the Curley school would find other ways to make up the lost days.

“We have full confidence in the incredible teachers and staff at the Curley school. We know they are providing high-quality remote instruction and connecting with their students in multiple ways during this short but necessary closure,” Cassellius and Ojikutu wrote.

Robert Orthman, whose son is a second grader at the school, which has about 900 students, said in an interview Sunday that the uncertainty over the remote work would only harm students and teachers.

“At the end of the day, it’s just punishing the students and the teachers for something that none of them had any real say or control in,” Orthman said. “I think that’s the hard part.”

The Curley school, he said, should not play a part in a disagreement between state and city leaders. “Can you leave us out of it?” he said.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey deferred to Boston Public Schools for comment Sunday.

Jonathan Palumbo, a Boston Public Schools spokesman, said Sunday the district is finalizing details for a vaccine clinic and testing at Curley. They have also shared links to vaccination and testing sites with families, he said.


Erik Berg, the vice president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in a previous statement that the state should credit the school for remote-learning days due to the outbreak.

The union represents more than 10,000 teachers and other school workers. According to the union Sunday, educators will complete all remote-learning assignments they receive from the school system.

Representatives for Baker and the Boston Public Health Commission did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.

Mayor-elect Michelle Wu, who will be sworn in as Janey’s successor Tuesday, said in a brief statement Sunday that the health and safety of students, teachers, staff, and families will be a top priority for her administration.

“We will follow the guidance of public health officials and experts — including the Boston Public Health Commission — and we will work with relevant agencies and partners to provide clarity around planning for similar outbreaks, and prioritize strategies to minimize disruptions to learning,” Wu said.

COVID-19 concerns at the Curley school erupted after an earlier outbreak at the city’s Manning school, and some parents have asked whether the cases are connected due to the intermingled populations.

Since September, Boston’s public schools have experienced increasing numbers of new COVID-19 cases among students and staff, according to data released by the district on its website.

The district reported nearly 150 new cases during the week of Nov. 4 through Nov. 10, the highest level since school began in September. The single largest increase was at Curley, according to Boston schools, which reported more than 40 new cases that week.


The city’s schools recently hired a private contractor to handle contract tracing, but a breakdown in that process and issues with a state testing effort for schools prompted Cassellius to shut Curley.

Cassellius and Ojikutu said that even if the proper capacity of rapid antigen testing was available “to accelerate a return to school on Wednesday,” they still have concerns about students who might be infected boarding a school bus or MBTA bus.

“We do not want to put potential COVID-positive students on a bus and endanger our students, bus drivers, and monitors,” they wrote.

Parents who spoke to the Globe Sunday said they supported the work of teachers and staff at the Curley school, including the principal as the school pivoted from in-person to remote learning.

Heidi Brooks, whose daughter attends the fifth grade at Curley, said in an interview Sunday that it was “something of a relief” that the Curley school closed Tuesday to control the outbreak.

Brooks said the state needs to provide additional testing resources to Curley, and credit the remote days for students and staff.

“I don’t think there are easy solutions,” Brooks said. “I think we should defer to public health authorities about health issues.”

Curley parents Abe Ahumada, Jessica Orthman, and Keeana Saxon, who lead its School Parent Council, said there are difficulties with remote learning, but supported the decision to close the school.

“There are Curley families for whom keeping kids at home is a true hardship. Our School Parent Council and school community has tried to aid all our families since the beginning of this pandemic,” they said in a statement to the Globe. “However, we hope that all state and city officials keep the health and safety of our kids a priority.”


James Vaznis of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com. Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.