Mayor Walsh said today that BPS is planning on making its school buildings as safe as possible - but also beefing up remote-learning abilities - as officials continue to try to figure out whether school will start this fall entirely remotely or with a "hopscotch" model in which students would spend part of their time in school and part at home.
"One way or another there's going to be remote learning going on," Walsh said at a City Hall press conference today. But at the same time, officials are rushing to get schools ready for students: The city has purchased 5,000 sheets of plexiglass with which to separate students, all nurse's offices are getting special isolation spaces for students who fall ill, HVAC systems are being upgraded and even long stuck windows are being unstuck to provide adequate and safe ventilation.
And before any schools are open, they will be inspected by ISD to ensure they are safe, he said.
"We will not send students or teachers or staff into a building that is not safe," he said, adding that the final answer might also include some schools opening, at least partially, with others remaining physically closed. It's a complicated decision because BPS is a complicated system, with 50,000 or so students, some 120 schools and transportation that relies on both BPS buses and the MBTA to get students around.
At the same time, BPS is looking at ways to improve remote learning, in part because this past spring's experience showed the model in use then was only exacerbating the achievement gap for minority students. He noted that schools today provide more than just learning - they also offer kids meals and after-school programs. And he acknowledged that not all parents can continue to stay at home with their kids.
"We have to get this right; our kids are depending on us doing this," he said.
Walsh said the final decision will depend in part on Covid-19 trends in Boston. He said the positivity rate among Boston tests have grown from about 2.1% a few weeks ago to as high as 2.9%, although it has since gone down over recent days to about 2.5%.
The numbers show, if nothing else, that Covid-19 is still here and that people have to keep following safety guidelines and rules - wear masks, keep your distance, avoid crowds and wash hands.
Walsh said he's particularly concerned about the imminent arrival of college students from high-rate Covid states. Although several local colleges have submitted plans that include initial quarantining and frequent testing, he said he worries whether all those students will, in fact, comply with those plans.
Walsh also said he's concerned about parents attending Little League games without masks. If they're not wearing masks, they should at least have them at the ready should somebody approach them, he said.