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Massachusetts Students Petition for Virtual Classes

Over 500 people have signed an online petition asking Quincy Public Schools to temporarily allow remote learning amid a new wave of COVID-19 cases, while the state points to mounting evidence it’s been harmful for kids.

Quincy students off bus.jpg
Students get off a bus at the Jefferson School for the first day of school in Rockland on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.
Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger
(TNS) — Students in Quincy have started an online petition pushing for an option to attend remote classes amid a surge in COVID cases nationwide.

Posted online Monday morning, the petition asks that some students be allowed to learn remotely on a per-student basis. It also points to several higher learning institutions — including Harvard University — that will teach remotely for the first two weeks of the spring 2022 semester. As of Tuesday morning, nearly 500 students had signed on.

Jessica Fang, a junior at North Quincy High, said she’s concerned with mask regulations not being followed in schools despite instructions from administrators. She said every student now has access to a ChromeBook, which would make the switch to remote or hybrid learning easy.

“We have the technology to do that, it’s just a matter of being selfish,” Fang, 17, said. “If colleges are closing, why aren’t we?”

Jacqueline Reis, of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said districts cannot offer remote learning, even temporarily, without permission from the state. The state education department also requires students and staff to wear masks until a school reaches a vaccination rate of 80 percent or higher.

At a press conference last month, Gov. Charlie Baker backed the decision not to revert to remote learning.

“My view on this one is really simple: kids need to be in school, school is safe. It’s not only safe, it’s healthy,” he said. There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence out there at this point in time that keeping kids out of school, keeping them away from one another, keeping kids away from trained and caring adults, did terrible damage to kids all over the country. It’s not going to happen in Massachusetts.”

Mayor Thomas Koch, who chairs the Quincy School Committee, said he would likely not support a switch to remote learning even if it was an option.

“I think the kids should be in school,” Koch said. “It’s going to be a crazy month, there is no question about it. It has already been a crazy month with the holidays, but luckily we aren’t seeing the severe illness we were seeing before.”

Arlene Duza, a senior at Quincy High School, said her parents are older and at a higher risk for COVID complications. She said she’s worried about catching COVID at school and bringing it home.

“(Remote learning) really benefited my mental health and I did a lot better. I think that option should still be there considering there are some students and teachers who have not been vaccinated,” Duza said. “When COVID first started, there was one case and schools were closed for months. Now, 20 students are being called to the nurse’s office between every class and we’re still here. I just don’t understand where they’re coming from.”

Quincy School Superintendent Kevin Mulvey said the district has amped up its pool testing and Test and Stay programs, and emailed families Sunday asking for increased participation in testing after the holiday break.

“We certainly have thought about all of the options but we have no intention of going remote right now,” he said.

Mulvey said hundreds of rapid at-home test kits were made available to staff members and teachers over the weekend, and that a “small amount” were out Monday with positive cases. He said there were no “excessive absences” in students or staff Monday, and that each school has received a delivery of KN-95 masks.

“It’s a multi-layered approach that we’re taking,” Mulvey said.

At Norwell High School, vaccinated students and staff had been given the OK by state officials not to wear masks in class. On Monday, the school chose to reinstitute the mask requirement.

Also on Monday, some Massachusetts schools canceled classes or started late to give teachers and students time to test for coronavirus before going back to school.

In Randolph, classes were canceled to “give the district time to complete the testing of staff and fully understand our staff and student positivity rates, close contact status, and ability to attend school.”

The Massachusetts Teachers Association called for a statewide delay to give students and teachers more time to take COVID-19 tests but was rejected by education officials.

Quincy Education Association President Gayle Carvalho said teachers in Quincy have a wide range of feelings when it comes to in-person learning.

“We are the employees, we are going to show up and do what we need to do,” she said. “We are in a precarious position right now. If the case numbers continue to go up, it’s going to be hard for people to want to send their kids in ... This is going to be a wait-and-see situation.”

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