By SCOTT JACKSON
Quincy Public Schools students in grades four through twelve are set to return to the classroom on a part-time basis next Thursday, Oct. 15.
Students in pre-kindergarten through grade three were allowed to begin the school year last month under the hybrid model, which includes in-person and remote classes, and certain high-need students at all grade levels were also given the opportunity for in-person instruction. All other students started learning remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The School Committee had targeted Tuesday, Oct. 13, as the date those students who started the year remotely could transition to the hybrid model. That has since been pushed back two days to Thursday, Oct. 15. Lauren Owens, the assistant to superintendent Kevin Mulvey, said the start date was pushed back two days because Wednesdays are fully remote days for all children except for certain high-need students.
Parents do have the option to keep their children at home where they would continue to learn remotely.
Ruth Jones, the city’s health commissioner, on Monday said ten COVID-19 cases had been reported among Quincy Public Schools students between Sept. 23 and Sunday. One teacher has also tested positive.
Mulvey, in a phone interview Monday, said five of those students were remote learners and five were hybrid learners.
The superintendent said he continues to work with Jones on plans to move to the hybrid model for all grades next week.
“She feels we’re still OK to move forward with planning. We’re taking it day-by-day,” Mulvey said. “We haven’t seen any in-school transmission, which is good.”
The district has protocols in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19, he stated. Those include six feet of distancing in the classroom and a requirement that students in grades two and up and all staff wear masks. The district used those same guidelines for in-person programming offered over the summer to special education students.
“We are following all the protocols we have been following since the summer,” the superintendent said.
Mulvey said his department also notifies parents and the school community after each confirmed case.
“Our goal is to be transparent,” he said.
Jones discussed COVID-19 cases among students during the Sept. 30 School Committee meeting. She told the school board the cases seen had come from community spread or spread within families.
“We’re not seeing any transmission within the schools, which is a good thing. We are looking at community spread,” Jones said. “Some are families. You see mom positive, dad positive and then a child may be positive. There were a number of cases that are unknown where they got it. No relation.
“But we do see spread within families when we’re looking at our contract contact tracing and when we’re doing our investigation.”
Quincy has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and was designated a yellow, or moderate risk, community by the Department of Public Health on Sept. 30, with a case rate of 4.38 new cases per day per 100,000 residents over the prior two weeks. The city had previously been a green, or low risk, with fewer than four new cases per day per 100,000 residents since mid-August.
The rise in cases in recent weeks in Quincy and the rest of Massachusetts could have been caused by the return of students, including those in college, to classes and the start of fall as people spend more time indoors because of the cooler weather, Jones said Monday. But she said the majority of the increase is because some people are no longer taking steps to stop the spread of the virus, such as wearing masks and social distancing.
“I think people are getting lax or tired of wearing masks and social distancing,” Jones said. “I see a lot of people without masks on.”
Jones told the school board Sept. 30 that the move from green to yellow should not delay plans to move to hybrid learning.
“Just because we went into the yellow, I don’t think it should change our plans as far as the way we’re going forward with bringing students back,” she said, noting that other metrics need to be considered as well, including the number of cases among Quincy Public Schools staff and students, cases in students’ households, cases among city residents ages 18 and under, and the case rate in communities where QPS staff resides.
“You look at the other metrics…and it shows us that the transmission is not within schools. The transmission we’re seeing is community. And I would not not change anything right now the way that we’re planning on progressing back into four through twelve coming back hybrid.”
Committee member Paul Bregoli asked Jones why the guidelines for distancing inside schools are different than those in place for other settings. For example, Bregoli noted the state is now allowing up to ten people to sit at a table in restaurants.
“If we’re sitting ten people at a table, that’s pretty close to each other. And I think people are asking, well, if we can do that when we go out to dinner then why is it not possible for us to do that in a public school setting? And I had the same question,” Bregoli said.
Jones said many patrons who go to restaurants either live together or would otherwise spend time together, while children in schools come from different households.
“I think for the most part, if you see people going out to dinner, it’s people who are together a lot in other phases of their day or their life,” Jones said.
“In a school situation, we have many kids from different homes, different households, and the thought of having these kids too close together and then bringing that back to so many different households that we could see the transmission be much, much more widespread than in a restaurant situation. I think that’s the basis behind it.”
Bregoli also asked Jones if she would be comfortable reducing the distancing requirements in schools from six feet to three feet, which is the minimum distance required by the state. Jones said she is not ready to move from six feet.
“I’m very comfortable with six at this point and I think… the path that we’re going on is the right path. When we have the four to twelve group come back hybrid, I think that will give us a lot of information on how the schools will be able to succeed,” she said.
“We don’t want to overwhelm any resources, and this will give us some really good information of what happens when the larger group comes in.”
The district had surveyed parents in recent weeks to determine how many children would continue with remote learning and how many would move to the hybrid model. The percentage of students who will be moving to hybrid learning varies by grade level.
Grade four has the fewest students choosing the hybrid approach; 45 percent of those students will move to the hybrid model. Among fifth graders, 48 percent will move to hybrid classes.
A majority of middle schoolers will move to hybrid classes, including 58 percent of sixth graders, 56 percent of seventh graders, and 59 percent of eighth graders.
Ninth grade has the highest percentage of students moving to hybrid classes, with 61 percent of those students doing so. Less than half of other high schoolers – 49 percent of sophomores, 46 percent of juniors and 47 percent of seniors – will move to hybrid.
Parents of children in kindergarten to grade three had the same choice as well; 56 percent of kindergarteners are learning through the hybrid model as of this week, as are 53 percent of first graders, 54 percent of second graders and 50 percent of third graders.