Mayor Walsh held a press conference on Friday, July 31, where he provided updates on the City’s COVID-19 efforts, as well as invited Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Brenda Cassellius to speak more about the status of the BPS reopening plan.
Walsh said on Friday that the seven day daily average of new cases remains “very low,” as does the number of COVID patients in hospitals. He said that while there has been a “small uptick” in the number of cases in the state, it is not currently a cause of concern.
“Compared to the rest of the United States, Boston and the Commonwealth are working extremely hard to make sure we keep these numbers down,” Walsh said.
He said that so far, $33 million has been raised for the Boston Resiliency Fund, and more than $24 million has been distributed to nonprofits and organizations serving youth, families and seniors.
More than 1500 meals a week are being distributed to the City’s seniors, and Lyft drivers have delivered more than 2000 bags of food at no cost to the City, Walsh added, which helps keep these drivers employed. Additionally, 100 food pantries and 18 farmers markets are open in the City.
Other food access measures include working with Project Bread to increase SNAP enrollment. “Food access is an equity issue and we’ve been addressing it for a long time,” Walsh said.
He also added that the new mobile testing team will be in different neighborhoods across the city every two weeks, bringing tests to areas that need it the most. “Testing is one of the best tools we have for stopping the spread of the virus,” Walsh said.
The City will also be hosting a series of virtual panels about how the virus has impacted its biggest sectors, including hospitality, construction, retail, and the IT/tech industry. These forums will be “geared towards” college and job training programs, Walsh said, and experts in the industries will be able to share latest market trends as well as answer questions.
Walsh also spoke about the importance of filling out the Census so the city is not undercounted, as funds are needed to support every Boston resident.
“We need people to fill out the Census,” Walsh said. “Everyone counts equally in our democracy.”
Walsh announced last week that BPS was looking at a hybrid model for students in the fall, where they would be split into groups and alternate remote learning and in-person learning. Parents would have the option to have their children learn entirely remotely.
“Keeping our kids safe is the number one priority,” Walsh said last Friday. “We’re planning for every scenario. We know that we will not start school this year with all in-person learning.”
Walsh made it clear that he does not want to see “an issue” made out of reopening schools. “Let’s think about how we reopen schools safely.” He said if schools can’t be reopened safely at all this fall, they will have to be reopened at some point so the discussion needs to start now about how to do it in the best, safest way.
“We are not these other states where they’re seeing surges,” Walsh said, “and quite honestly, public employees and people are being completely ignored by governments in these other states. You are not being ignored here in Boston.”
BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said that “it was’t easy pivoting in four short days to ensure food access to our families, to reinvent a whole new way of educating children; while also giving them the technology while we were sheltering in so they could continue their learning at home.”
She said that since schools closed in March, more than 32,000 Chromebooks and almost 1.4 million meals have been distributed to students across the City. She added that more than 14,000 contacts with students have been made to provide support for mental health.
“We learned a lot,” she said of this past spring’s remote learning experience. “We know now that many students struggle in this new way of learning,” and families need more guidance to help their students at home.
“It is clear that the best place for children to learn is at school, in a classroom, with their teacher,” she said. “But…we will only bring them back if it’s safe to do so. Safety is our top priority.”
Cassellius said that BPS has been “planning for months” and gathering data from students, families, and staff through surveys, as well as walking through schools, looking at blueprints, and “evaluating our spring remote learning.”
She said that facility concerns such as water temperature, bathrooms, fixing windows, and ordering HVAC units is something that is being addressed by BPS, as is working on signage.
She said meetings on reopening safely have included voices of families, students, teachers, school leaders, the Nurses Faculty Senate, and other stakeholders. She said they are hard at work on the hybrid model as well as focusing heavily on the remote learning aspect, as a switch may have to be made to completely remote learning should the virus worsen in the communities.
She said that parents will be able to choose between either the “hybrid or remote model without losing their spot at their school,” and a survey will be released soon asking parents which they prefer for their children.
“Over the last several months, we have witnessed the inequalities that existed in our community, but have become exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cassellius said. “As we reckon with decades of racial inequality and a systemic oppression and as we ban together in a call to action so our children inherit a better, fairer, and more just society, and as such, we at BPS are keeping equity at the center and are committed to rectifying the barriers and inequalities that exist in our policies, in our practice, and one by one, because our children deserve the opportunity and the access to an excellent and equitable education.”
She said that reinventing education is something that has to be done, because “we can’t just throw up our hands and do nothing.” She said that “our children don’t get a rewind. There’s no do-over.”
Walsh again asked for the reopening of schools to not be a political issue, and to “keep the kids at the forefront” of the conversation.