Though Boston Public Schools intends to return from winter break on Tuesday, January 4, 2022, more than 150 teachers tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, and more district staff could call out sick after taking a rapid test Monday, officials said.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said Monday that the schools still planned to reopen Tuesday, but that the district would reevaluate each school on a case-by-case basis.
“If I have to go out and teach in the classroom, I’m going to do that,” Cassellius said. “But our goal is to keep classes going and keeps students in-person.”
Boston is not the only district having difficulties returning from the winter break.
Some Massachusetts school officials are electing to cancel classes Monday and into the week amid a significant spike in COVID cases.
Infections rapidly rose across the United States during December as people traveled and celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, and as the new, more infectious omicron variant of the virus took hold. Massachusetts and other northeastern states are experiencing the worst of the country’s case surge, data from the Centers for Disease Control shows.
With Massachusetts hitting its highest count of new COVID cases since the pandemic began, schools in Brookline, Lawrence, Cambridge, and other towns and cities are already closed for the beginning of the week in order to allow teachers and students time to test for the virus.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said last week that it would distribute 200,000 rapid tests to school districts for staff to take before they returned from the winter break. Staff was not required to take the tests in order to return to work, officials said.
But even as the state’s teachers’ association called for schools to be closed Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker and other state authorities said they would not issue an order to cancel classes.
“If we learned anything from this pandemic, it’s the damage that was done to kids should never be repeated,” Baker said Thursday. “We have the tools and capabilities to keep people safe.”
“DESE staff worked very hard to secure these at-home rapid antigen tests for schools and we are all grateful for their efforts and hard work to help schools during this difficult time,” Education Secretary James Peyser said. “We all remain committed to keeping schools open despite the recent uptick in COVID cases.”
Brookline Public Schools canceled Monday classes after not having enough staff “to operate all schools safely,” Superintendent Linus Guillory Jr. said in a message to families.
“While we understand that closing schools on Monday will be challenging for families, we believe this is in the best interest of our staff, students, and families and will allow us to return as safely and as strongly as possible,” he said.
The district will evaluate whether it can open schools Tuesday and make an announcement by the end of Monday, Guillory said.
Lawrence schools also canceled classes Monday. The state’s rapid tests were distributed to teachers over the weekend, but Superintendent Cynthia Paris said the district needed more time to complete the testing process and assess its staffing levels.
Cambridge went a step further, announcing before the New Year that classes would be canceled until Wednesday. The schedule, Interim Superintendent Victoria Greer said, allowed “as many students as possible” to test for the virus Monday and receive results Tuesday. Classes could then resume Wednesday, she said, “with minimal disruptions by reducing unnecessary quarantines later this week and beyond.”