Jamaica Plain’s weekly COVID test rate increases; Curley School outbreak forces closure

After experiencing a fifty-five percent spike in the weekly COVID test rate between October 25 and November 1 the Jamaica Plain test rate spiked once again last week. 

Adding to the recent spike in the neighborhood, an outbreak of cases at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain last week forced the school to close and set off a showdown between local and state officials. 

According to the weekly report released by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) 1,677 Jamaica Plain residents were tested last week and 2.9 percent were found to be positive. This was a 70.5  percent increase from the 1.7 percent that tested positive between October 25 and November 1. 

At the Curley School, cases swelled to 46 and school officials decided it was best to close the school, isolate those who were exposed, switch to remote learning and reopen on Monday, November 22. School officials said the decision and process followed the Boston Public Health Commission’s recommendations for switching to remote learning during an outbreak of cases. 

However, the decision to close the school sparked a battle between Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Jeffrey Riley and Boston Public Schools. Riley ruled this week  that only four days of remote learning at the Curley would count to the required 180 school days per school year. 

He demanded the Curley reopen no later than Wednesday and refused to grant the school’s request that seven of the 10 remote days be counted toward the required 180-day school year.

In a letter to the Mayor’s Office, Boston School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson, and Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, Riley defended his decision and wrote, “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.”

The decision caused ire among the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), school officials, and Jamaica Plain’s elected officials. 

On Monday, the BTU released a statement and called Riley’s decision “bizarre”. 

“Amidst this kind of public health crisis, state bureaucrats should be listening to local families, and not threatening them, especially when the state itself is still cutting corners on safety measures and has failed to make the necessary robust investments in testing capacity,” BTU Executive Vice President Erik Berg said in a statement. “The state should not be playing politics around school schedules or gambling with the health of students and their families. The idea that the state is not going to give students credit for learning days that are remote under these circumstances strikes most parents and educators as bizarre. Instead, the state should be focusing on improving their own implementation of pool testing and ‘test and stay’ programs in order to keep students safe and to ensure the continuity of in-person learning. We all want to be teaching in-person every day, but when public health officials warn about the safety of doing so, we need the state to listen.”

Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and Rep. Nika Elugardo both blasted Riley’s decision with Chang-Diaz applauding the school’s decision and blasting DESE.  Diaz committed that at the end of the day, the buck stops with Boston Public Schools, not DESE, for keeping their students, staff, and families safe. 

Elugardo applauded the school’s staff and said they have gone above and beyond to ensure there’s no break in the Curley children’s education while they are forced by public health guidelines to study from home. 

Last week, the citywide weekly positive test rate also increased. According to the BPHC 22,322 residents were tested and 3 percent were COVID positive–this was a 15.4 percent increase  from the 2.6 percent reported by the BPHC on November 8. 

Forty-nine additional Jamaica Plain residents became infected with COVID-19 since November 8 and the number of total cases since the start of the pandemic increased to 3,515. 

The statistics released by the BPHC as part of its weekly COVID19 report breaks down the number of cases and infection rates in each neighborhood. It also breaks down the number of cases by age, gender and race.

Citywide positive cases of coronavirus increased 1.6 percent since November 8 and went from 84,353 cases to 85,672 confirmed cases in a week. There were six additional deaths in Boston from the virus in the past week and the total COVID deaths is now at 1,462. 

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