Dept. of Education to begin tracking coronavirus cases in schools as some already report infections

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Massachusetts school districts will again be required to report coronavirus cases to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, a recent reversal on the previous policy that the infections wouldn’t be tracked this school year.

A DESE spokeswoman said reports of positive coronavirus cases among students and staff will restart on Sept. 13, and the infection numbers will be shared weekly as they were during the last school year.

“This data will give the commissioner more information to assess conditions at schools,” spokeswoman Colleen Quinn said.

The change comes as two school districts have already experienced positive COVID-19 cases despite students having returned to the classroom just days prior.

Farmington River Elementary School has been closed since Friday due to three confirmed cases in the district and transportation issues.

Superintendent and Principal Tom Nadolny told the Berkshire Eagle that the bus company used by the district couldn’t provide service “due to either a positive case or some awaiting testing.”

Melrose Public Schools officials also had a run-in with coronavirus just as the school year kicked off. At least two classrooms had to be quarantined for a COVID-19 outbreak.

School officials did not say how many students or staff had tested positive for COVID-19, if they were vaccinated, or specify the grade level of the classrooms that were put into quarantine.

Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, told the Herald, “What we are worried about is if it’s happening in a community like Melrose, we’re concerned that it could be even worse in communities of color and urban districts with families of low income.”

Najimy said an increase in coronavirus cases was expected with a return to school and leadership from DESE needs to be stronger. She added that the MTA had been pushing for regular reporting of coronavirus cases found in schools.

“That’s something that we have been calling for — transparency and communication. So it’s important and it’s at the last minute,” Najimy said.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday a return to remote learning is not under consideration.

“Schools have a certain number of days baked into their calendar that they are allowed to miss and I think our view at this point is in-person learning is where we should be and where we should stay, and anybody who isn’t vaccinated who’s eligible should get vaccinated and take advantage of these clinics we’ve put up,” Baker said.

All students and staff of Massachusetts schools are required to wear masks indoors until at least Oct. 1.

Herald wire services contributed to this report. 

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