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On Eve of Boston Schools' Return to Class, Teachers Still Concerned Over COVID

Boston Public Schools will begin some hybrid learning Thursday, even as the city is seeing an increase in its COVID-19 cases and landed in Massachusetts' red zone for high risk of transmission

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Boston Public Schools teachers are at odds with parents over the return to the classroom scheduled for Thursday morning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the district’s phased-in reopening plan, high-needs students are scheduled to return for in-person learning on Oct. 1. But Boston is seeing an increase in its COVID-19 cases and landed Wednesday night on the state's red zone for being at high risk of transmission.

“Our schools are not ready and they’re not safe,” said Callie Liebmann, an elementary school teacher.

At Liebmann’s school, nearly 30 students are expected to return Thursday for the hybrid model, which will involve learning in both the classroom and at home.

“There are major concerns around ventilation,” Liebmann said. “There are classrooms that don’t have any windows, there are classrooms that have broken windows.”

At least 20 students have been asked to isolate after a bus monitor tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Auburn, Massachusetts.

But according district leaders, many repairs and improvements have been made to address concerns.

“We have taken every precaution that we could for their health and safety, and I think that we are ready,” Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said.

With many of its buildings built before World War II, Boston Public Schools has had to make upgrades and improvement where it can to improve air flow through classrooms. The work has involved repairing nearly 300 windows and replacing more than 10,000 air filters in buildings.

For many families of children slated to return Thursday, the improvements are sufficient. After months of remote learning, it has become increasingly clear to them that in-person learning is the best option.

“I don’t believe it. I know it,” parent Kelsey Brendel said.

Facing mobility and communication challenges, Brendel’s 7-year-old son has struggled to receive any education from the district since schools closed in March. Now, he's set to begin first grade.

“There was absolutely no way for my son to access education remotely, or through any sort of approach that was not in-person learning,” Brendel said.

But concerns persist. And they will likely not subside until the pandemic ends.

“We are not ready,” Leibmann said.

Boston's designation as high risk for coronavirus transmission won't immediately affect the district's plans for reopening, which call for ending in-person learning only when the city's COVID-19 test positivity rate reaches 4%. The rate is currently far below that.

"BPS and the City of Boston are monitoring public health guidance and we will only continue with the scheduled phase-in of the hybrid model if it is safe to do so," the district said in a statement Wednesday night.

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