COVID-19 and Schools

In Prep for Re-Entry, Boston Schools Invest in Window Repair, Replacements

Throughout the month of March, Boston Public Schools is expanding the number of students it brings back into classrooms for in-person instruction. Beginning in February, high-priority students—those with disabilities, English learners, kids who were homeless or identified as requiring in-person schooling for other reasons—began re-entry. By March 1, that had grown to include students in grades K-3, each of whom would be back in school for two days of instruction per week. By mid-March, students in grades 4-8 will start their part-time return to campuses. And by the end of the month, high schoolers will also be returning for two days a week.

This is the second round in which the district has pursued reopening. Plans set in place last fall for re-entry were reversed when a spike in COVID cases forced BPS to return to all-remote learning. The goal was to have at least two full weeks of falling infection rates. Currently, the city's positivity rate for COVID-19 testing is 1.14%, with no change from the previous two-week period.

To prepare for the return of some 51,285 students into classrooms, the district has undertaken a number of projects, including:

  • A $7 million effort to repair or replace some 7,000 windows to allow teachers to open them in spaces that lack heating, ventilation and air conditioning;
  • Installation of several thousand protective partitions made of plexiglass or vinyl shields in areas where staffers need closer contact than six feet or work in administrative spaces;
  • Upgrades of HVAC filters and systems and positioning of student desks six feet apart in classrooms.

 

District leaders have also promised that custodians will be "continuously disinfecting" high-touch areas in hallways, including door knobs and common surfaces, as well as bathroom surfaces. Doors will be pegged open wherever possible to minimize touch points. Every two to three hours, hand sanitizers placed at entrances and around school buildings will be refilled. And, at the end of each day, a "top-to-bottom sanitization" will take place in each classroom, using a disinfecting fogger machine.

BPS has also distributed tens of thousands of reusable masks for student and staff use to schools. Each school was responsible for identifying an "isolation" room that won't be used for any other purpose and to come up with plans for "mask breaks."

The district has faced a tide of criticism from its educators, who poked holes in early district guidance to use windows and fans for increasing airflow in classrooms. Last fall, dozens of teachers shared photos on social media to show how ill-considered BPS' response to the coronavirus was for its planned fall reopening. Many classrooms were outfitted with windows that would open only inches or in a direction that wouldn't allow for the use of the fans. Others pointed out that Boston winters weren't amenable to providing ventilation via open windows, leaving teachers to choose between healthy air or frigid classrooms.

According to local reporting, the city remains classified by state public health officials as a moderately high-risk community, based on the number of active COVID-19 cases. State residents between zero and 18 years old make up the largest age group of cases in the state during the last two weeks: 5,083.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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