By Lauren Bennett and Seth Daniel
Gov. Charlie Baker confirmed on Tuesday what many knew was probably coming – the closure of schools for the rest of the academic year.
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Baker announced that all Massachusetts public and private schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year. He said that he understands that “school closures put a tremendous strain on parents,” and “we know it’s a lot to ask,” but the state will be helping to boost remote learning for the rest of the school year.
“It’s the right thing to do, considering the facts on the ground associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Baker said. He said that due to the lack of “authoritative guidance” about how to safely get kids to and from school and safely operate schools, “we believe students therefore cannot safely return to school and avoid the risk of transmitting the virus to others.”
To all high school seniors who were looking forward to end of year activities like trips and the prom, Baker said: “Keep your heads up…we’ll get through this pandemic together.”
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito also had a message for high school seniors.
“You lived a lot, you’ve had great times, you’ve learned a lot and you’re ready to that the next step in your life,” she said, “and there’s no doubt in my mind that the creativity of your superintendent, your principal, and your parents will make sure that the milestone that you’ve achieved will be celebrated and will be honored.”
Boston Supt. Brenda Cassellius said it was about the health and well-being of families first, and also that online learning will continue vigorously after the April Vacation this week.
“The health and well-being of Boston Public Schools students, families, and staff will always be our first priority,” she said. “I appreciate Governor Baker’s decision to keep schools closed through the remainder of the school year, even as he acknowledged the challenges an extended closure creates for students and families across the Commonwealth. BPS remains committed to providing equitable and meaningful learning opportunities for our students and has been developing plans to expand and improve upon our ongoing remote learning efforts. Nothing is more important to us than our students, and we will remain unwavering in our efforts to ensure they get what they need for their health, safety, and continued learning.”
In Charlestown, it might have been the first time that school was cancelled and young students were tremendously disappointed. While most knew the decision was coming, many had hopes they might be able to go back and enjoy seeing their friends for a short time before getting out.
“We know that this additional time out of the building will allow BPS the time needed to determine how to operate schools safely and keep our community safe,” said Becky Adamonis, president of the Harvard Kent Parents Association. “The Harvard-Kent building may be closed, but the HK community is still together and available to help any family who has a need or is struggling. The efforts of the teachers and staff to provide the strongest distance learning opportunities for all Harvard-Kent students has been impressive and I know that will continue through the end of the school year. With the addition of 6th grade for next year, all students will be coming back for the 2020-21 school year and it will be the best one yet.”
That was echoed by Harvard Kent Principal Jason Gallagher, who said it was a bummer, but the right decision.
“I am definitely bummed out that we will not be back in school the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, but I understand why the Governor made this decision,” he said. “We miss seeing all our kids and families in person. I am lucky to be working with an incredible, dedicated Harvard-Kent staff who I know will continue to do everything they can to make distance learning a positive experience for all our students. I am already looking forward to making the 2020-21 school year the best school year ever for our students. They deserve it.”
The Warren Prescott Parents Association also agreed it was the right thing to do, and though it can be difficult trying to coordinate online learning, it was not safe to try to go back.
“It’s the right decision,” said Marne Esselman. “Governor Baker, Mayor Walsh, Dan Ryan, and Sal DiDomenico – have been appropriately measured in all their decisions regarding COVID-19 and I trust them. Obviously no one wants to be in this situation, but children don’t fully grasp social distancing and expecting one teacher to police 25 some odd students to adhere to it, and teach at the same time, would be impossible. I have faith in BPS, especially the Warren Prescott and Harvard Kent, to pick up in the fall and make sure that everyone is on the right track.”
At the Eliot K-8 in the North End, Principal Traci Griffiths said they understand the closure can be a challenge, but it was to protect the city’s most vulnerable from an outbreak.
“We are truly grateful for the unwavering commitment of our Eliot community over the past five weeks,” she said. “We all recognize that the extended school closure is challenging and unprecedented, especially to our city’s most vulnerable populations. Access and equity is always at the forefront of the work we do at The Eliot. It is mission critical that our plan is flexible to accommodate the different needs our students and families without creating additional undue stress. Given all these unique circumstances, our staff is working tirelessly to support and educate all of our students. We will continue to collaborate with families and students to provide continuity, coherence and connection in our virtual learning journey. At The Eliot and in Boston we know we are always stronger together.”
Lt. Gov. Polito thanked the superintendents, parents, principals, educators, and students for helping the administration “arrive at what we know is the right decision at this point in time.”
Polito urged students to continue learning using the remote tools provided to them by their teachers, and to not take this announcement as meaning that “school’s out for summer.” She also encouraged them to stay in touch with their friends via technology, and continue to exercise and participate in hobbies from home.
She also said that “now is the time” to “lean in, embrace it , and do the best you can, not only for yourself, but to encourage your peers, and, to when the last day of the school year arrives, feel like you’ve accomplished something…”