Saturday, July 13, 2024

Very soon the School Committee will vote on an important and historic decision to either send our children and teachers back into our school buildings or to keep the buildings closed and continue with remote learning. The implications and ramifications for our entire community are unquestionably enormous.

If you are one of the 4,000 families in the Cambridge Public School district, you have been juggling overwhelming tasks between homeschooling, work demands, health practices and the general stress of trying to survive a worldwide pandemic during a national political reckoning.

If you are one of the beloved teachers in this district you have been struggling to master new learning techniques and worrying about your students while trying to maintain your own family health considerations.

Meanwhile, Cambridge children have been out of school without structured learning or socializing opportunities for far too many months.

Superintendent Kenneth Salim has created an impressive and thoughtful reopening plan for the 7,000 students in our district, helped by educators and local epidemiologists and scientists who have been tirelessly donating their own time and expertise. The plan gives options for families and teachers, extra supports for vulnerable students and data-driven parameters to monitor the incidence rates in our community to determine safe opening and closing decisions. The School Committee delayed its usual summer break and has hosted 16 additional meetings since June to discuss and shape these plans, with many more subcommittee hearings and special meetings scheduled until completion. These meeting have been hourslong, and nearly every one of them included public comment.

But the responsibility of educating and supporting our students does not fall just to the School Committee and our educators. It’s the responsibility of the entire Cambridge community to provide a safe environment for our teachers to be able to do this important work.

The city manager has been extremely supportive of the requests from the school department for personal protective gear, building safety equipment and providing access to additional space for adequate social distancing. But there are still some missing protocols that need some attention from the City Council and from our surrounding community.

bullet-gray-small First is to establish an ongoing comprehensive testing protocol for teachers and students, as experts have recommended as a high priority. Right now the testing plan has been reduced to testing teachers only once, at the beginning of the school season. Local universities are developing more robust testing protocols to protect their students. There is no reason CPS students and teachers are not given this same important priority protection.

bullet-gray-small Second is securing the surrounding community to prevent a second surge like those seen in states and cities that reopened too quickly. Gov. Charlie Baker issued a travel order for tracing and tracking anyone coming into the commonwealth from one of these hot spots, but it’s up to the city manager to ensure our local universities are enforcing its guidelines. Concurrently the city manager and his team of health experts should ensure that bars, nightclubs and indoor seating at restaurants remain closed in Cambridge and lobby surrounding cities such as Somerville and Boston to do the same. The school district is establishing safe metrics for community incidence rates before it will recommend it is safe for students and teachers to go back into our buildings. Denying Cambridge residents access to known risky activities such as bars and indoor restaurants during this pandemic is a small sacrifice to make for the health and safety of our schools and teachers.

bullet-gray-small Third is that Cambridge leaders advocate for more state funding for education. Instead of allowing well-financed business lobbyists to dictate our state’s funding priority, Massachusetts needs to support its most fundamental and important public asset: its school system.

This pandemic has been a painful reminder about the fragile interconnectivity of a community. The ramifications of an unconfined virus are horrifying, but the loss of learning to an entire generation of students is unacceptable. Let’s make sure we are supporting the right practices to contain this virus and ensure our school system is our highest priority.

Kelly Dolan, Upland Road