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Mass. superintendent says he's seeing school transmission of COVID-19

WCVB Boston logo WCVB Boston 12/5/2020
a group of people sitting at a desk in an office: In Framingham, only the highest needs students have been inside the classroom, but that will change on Monday when all students switch to remote learning. © WCVB In Framingham, only the highest needs students have been inside the classroom, but that will change on Monday when all students switch to remote learning.

A total of 527 new COVID-19 cases were reported among students and staff in Massachusetts public schools over the past week, statistics released from the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education showed.

Framingham superintendent of Schools Robert Tremblay said the district has evidence of COVID-19 spreading within city schools.

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"What is different from a week ago is we're starting to see in-school transmission," Tremblay said Wednesday during a School Committee meeting. "Whatever the CDC might be saying or whatever the governor or the commissioner of education might be saying, that it's safe to come back to school and schools are not the nexus of where spread is happening — we have evidence to the contrary in our community."

In Framingham, only the highest needs students have been inside the classroom, but that will change on Monday when all students switch to remote learning.

According to the MetroWest Daily News, Framingham Public Schools — which with 8,733 students in grades K-12 is the largest school district in MetroWest — reopened in the fall with a 100% remote start. It has gradually welcomed back some students who need greater attention for in-person learning. But the majority of students continue to learn remotely.

According to a Framingham school committee member, a family that was supposed to be quarantining did not, sending their child to school where the virus spread. "Whatever is happening in the community is going to come into the schools," Geoffrey Epstein, a school committee member said.

"It was clearly transmission in the building from the initial get go," Christine Mulroney, president of the Framingham Teachers Association said. "In the end, we did have transmission in the building."

The Framingham Teachers Union says there is evidence of in school spread and that DESE doesn’t want to hear it. "Districts have acknowledged they've tried to report there has been in school transmission," Mulroney said. "DESE doesn't have any mechanism for recording that."

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker disagreed.

"The data's pretty clear that kids in school, in person, are socially, emotionally doing better," Baker said Friday. "You have almost a half-million teachers and kids who are going into school, either in person or hybrid situation and you have less than 500 who said they have COVID-19."

“Consistent with public health data nationwide, there has been very limited instances of in-school transmission in Massachusetts public schools, even in communities with higher COVID-19 transmission rates," Colleen Quinn, a spokesperson for the executive office of education said. "While unions engage in baseless attacks, we remain committed to children’s education and the best interests of staff, students and families and continue to believe that in person learning is best for the academic and emotional health of our students.”

Despite the push for more in-person learning by the state, Framingham will move to all-remote learning for the rest of the year on Monday.

"We must hold ourselves and each other accountable for appropriate behavior during these times in order to ensure our collective safety and well-being," Tremblay said. "We must be examples to the community with our responsible actions and precautionary efforts."

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