Massachusetts education officials have denied the Curley School's request to count seven days of remote learning toward the 180 days of required learning time, granting a waiver for only four days instead while criticizing the decision to close the school due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
"Maximizing safe in-person learning remains a top priority for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) this school year," Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said in a letter to Boston Public Schools. "I am particularly concerned that remote learning will not fully meet the academic and social emotional needs of our students, especially students with disabilities, English learners, and other vulnerable students. In order to provide equitable access to high-quality learning for all, DESE stated as early as our May 27, 2021 guidance that remote learning would not count towards structured learning time for the 2021-
22 school year. It is critical that we continue to do everything possible to enable all students to attend school in-person."
Riley criticized the decision to close the Curley School at all, saying the decision was made without appropriate consultation with DESE.
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"It is possible that the spread of COVID-19 was truly so rapid that earlier mitigations would not have had an effect," he wrote. "However, we are left to wonder if the whole school closure at the Curley could have been avoided if progressive interventions recommended by DESE were implemented last week, such as quarantining individual classrooms or grade levels."
The K-8 school announced Tuesday that it was going remote for 10 days. Superintendent of Boston Public Schools Brenda Cassellius cited a “rapid increase of positive COVID-19 cases in a short period of time" as the reason for the closure.
At least 46 positive COVID cases had been reported among staff and students, impacting 21 classrooms across multiple grade levels.
The school closed for in-person learning starting Wednesday and was scheduled to reopen on Nov. 22. It was not immediately clear whether Riley's decision could change that schedule.
In his letter to Boston Public Schools, Riley did grant a "limited structural learning time waiver request" for up to four school days to provide time for school and health officials to complete contact tracing and set up a testing program to prepare for the return of students.
He said the school can continue to offer remote learning beyond that at their discretion but those days will not count toward the 180 required learning days, meaning three days would have to be added to the school calendar.
Boston Public Schools have reported 401 COVID-19 cases so far this year, averaging around 40 to 50 cases a week until the most recent report. The report for Oct. 28 to Nov. 3 showed 109 cases, much higher than the 32 cases reported just a week earlier.
Through Nov. 3, the Curley School had reported 14 total coronavirus cases, but seven of those were reported in the most recent 7-day period.