Surge in COVID cases prompts Boston schools to go all-remote

BOSTON (AP) — Boston schools will switch to all-remote learning in response to a rising number of coronavirus cases in the city, Mayor Marty Walsh and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a statement Wednesday.

The switch to remote-only learning starts Thursday.

The city’s seven-day average COVID-19 positive test rate is currently 5.7%, an increase from last week’s rate of 4.5%. There have been two weeks of increased confirmed positive cases across the city. Students will remain in remote learning until there are two full weeks of falling infection rates, according to the statement.

“We have said all along that we will only provide in-person learning for students if the data and public health guidance supports it, and this new data shows that we are trending in the wrong direction,” Walsh said.

Although the city started remote learning Sept. 21, students considered high-need, including those with special needs, English learners, those experiencing homelessness, and those who are in state care had been allowed to resume in-person classes.

Earlier this month, the city pushed back the in-person start date for preschoolers and kindergartners from Oct. 15 instead until Oct. 22. That has now been delayed again.

Cassellius said she was “heartbroken” that high-need students are now affected.

“Our families are desperate for these services for their children, many of whom are nonverbal and unable to use technology in the home,” she said.

Once the citywide seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate is at 5% or lower for two consecutive weeks, high-need students will have the option to return to in-person learning, the city said. When the positivity rate is at 4% or lower for two consecutive weeks, the school system will restart the phased return of students for in-person learning.

The Boston Teachers Union, which had been pushing for all-remote learning in light of rising coronavirus positivity rates, welcomed Wednesday's decision and committed to working with the city.

“However, we remain very concerned about the impact on the learning experience of high-needs students," the union said in a statement. “We continue to advocate for a safe and sustainable plan that safely provides the additional services that many of our special education, EL and other students continue to need."