Some 900 Boston students and their teachers returned to the Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain on Monday after a COVID-19 outbreak prompted the district to close their school for nearly two weeks.
The district took the unusual move earlier this month to send students and staff home when the campus case count swelled to 46, spreading through multiple classrooms and grades. In a year when the state has required schools to stay open for in-person learning, the Curley was only the second school in the state to temporarily close its doors this fall.
The outbreak has exposed the limitations of the state’s school COVID testing schemes in a year of short-staffing and raised questions about how far the state will go to uphold its ban on remote learning in the face of COVID outbreaks.
Boston embraced a state testing protocol that includes surveillance testing to find infected students and rapid COVID testing for any close contacts to keep healthy kids in school, but staffing shortages in Boston appear to have hobbled efforts to contain the virus.
With only seven staff dedicated to contact tracing for a district of more than 48,000 students and thousands of staff, it was up to parents and school employees to alert many potentially affected students and families. (The district has hired a private contractor to help with contact tracing.)
Parents and the city’s teachers union have questioned whether the district did enough to prevent the spread of the virus and have called for an independent investigation of the outbreak, the largest so far this year in the district. Other clusters include the Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, where at least 18 cases have been reported since late October, and another two dozen cases at the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury. Districtwide, the school system has logged more than 500 cases this fall.
While Curley students were forced to stay home starting Nov. 10, the district required them to study remotely, even though the state had essentially banned virtual school this year. Boston’s request for a waiver from the state requirement was only partially successful; the state will count four of the seven days studying from home toward state-mandated learning time.
The students and staff will have to make up the remaining three days during weekends or at the end of the school year, much like snow days.