School officials in Dedham are delaying their plan for students to return to classrooms after a local uptick in coronavirus cases that officials say is the result of gatherings held by young people.
The town's School Committee and Board of Health decided to indefinitely postpone the start dates for students to learn in-person this fall during a meeting Wednesday night, citing a "significant increase" in confirmed COVID-19 cases.
While those agencies didn't say explain what the gatherings were for, Gov. Charlie Baker explained Thursday they were “to watch a bunch of Bruins playoff games.”
Students will still begin school fully remote as planned on Sept. 16, but the first phase to bring them back in the classrooms will no longer begin, as originally scheduled, on Sept. 21. All in-person learning plans have been postponed by the district with updated timing contingent on the trajectory of the virus in the community.
“With such a significant increase in spread in the community, we need to be cautious and prioritize the safety of our students and staff,” Superintendent Mike Welch said. “We hope that with the cooperation of the Dedham community, we can get back to a place where we can safely begin offering our students the ability to learn in-person in the classroom.”
The latest reports from the Dedham Board of Health shifted the community into the "Red Zone" on state maps, indicating a 9.7 average daily incidence rate per 100,000 people. The town had 484 cases of coronavirus between Aug. 26, and Sept. 9, state data shows, with 37 new cases in the past two weeks.
Board of Health Chairwoman Leanne Jasset said in a statement said the rise in cases was linked to two gatherings of young people, including a party attended by high school students.
"While it is believed that these clusters are the cause of the recent rise in positive cases, the increase means that it is imperative for residents to get tested now so health officials will have the best possible understanding of the current COVID-19 situation in our community," Jasset said.
School officials are strongly encouraging families and community members to avoid crowds, help reduce exposure by limiting indoor or group gatherings, and urges family members of all ages to remain vigilant in wearing masks.
“Families, teachers and staff all want to see our students back for in-school learning. We have created the safest environments possible in our schools to make this happen, but we need our community and families to help by being cautious, encouraging students to wear masks when not alone or with family, and reducing opportunities for risk of exposure,” Welch said.
Dedham educators have already started the school year to prepare for student learning, both in remote settings and in-person. The district has provided air-purifiers for every school classroom and safety protocols including sanitization stations, spaced classroom seating and more have been put in place in each school building. Students and staff are required to wear masks at all times in school buildings and on buses.
Dedham's phased-in approach to resume in-person learning prioritizes high-needs students, bringing them back into schools first for four days of in-person learning, followed by a hybrid return, bringing designated groups of students in-person for two days each week.