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LYNN — Approximately 300 high needs students targeted for an early return to in-person instruction in the Lynn Public Schools will continue to learn remotely through at least Feb. 1.
All Lynn students have been learning remotely since last spring, when schools were shut down across the state at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The School Committee unanimously approved a recommendation from Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler Thursday night, which would push back the return of certain special education students and English language learners from the district’s initial targeted date of Jan. 19.
“It was an educated guess as to when we thought it would be safe for us to do so, but we are much closer to that date now, and it is the strong opinion of both our own nursing department and the city’s health department that right now is not the appropriate context for in-person learning for those groups that we intend to invite back,” said Tutwiler.
The date could be pushed back even further if the post-holiday COVID-19 surge continues in Lynn, said Tutwiler, who cited the latest data from the state Department of Public Health (DPH), which shows that the city’s high positive test and daily incidence rates increased to 14.46 percent and 128.2 new cases per 100,000 residents this week.
The most concerning aspect of that latest DPH data, in terms of a potential return to in-person learning for Lynn students, is that the group most impacted by the virus over the past 14 days has been those aged 0-19, Tutwiler said.
On Oct. 29, Tutwiler had recommended that the school district continue with remote learning through at least Feb. 5, but his plan allowed for the early return of approximately 236 special education students and 73 students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE).
On Feb. 1, school administrators are set to begin discussions centered around bringing back additional groups of students for in-person instruction. Now, with the tentative date of return pushed back for those high needs students, Tutwiler said school officials will also be discussing whether to delay the return of those initial groups even further.
“Our thought was no sooner than Feb. 1,” said Tutwiler. “It’s two weeks later than the 19th because we really want to sort of watch this on a week-by-week basis, (to) trust and follow the direction of the medical authority in the city, but as we near Feb. 1, make a decision as to whether or not it needs to be pushed back beyond February vacation.”
Michael Satterwhite, a committee member, said he “wholeheartedly” agreed with Tutwiler’s decision to wait to bring back SLIFE and special education students.
While, in his capacity as a special education attorney, Satterwhite said he hears from many parents who believe that those high needs students need in-person instruction with their teachers, he said there has to be a balance between addressing that need and ensuring overall student safety.
“It’s crazy how it’s spreading substantially and people don’t understand,” said Satterwhite. “Obviously, the consequences are death, but it doesn’t always have to happen at a party or an unsanctioned event. It could be just visiting somebody who doesn’t know that they have it.
“So, that’s my big worry and that’s where I think your balancing has to come into play. I strongly suggest that we continue to heed the advice of the city’s Board of Health, as well as the nurses in our department. We have to be diligent with bringing even 300 kids with educators back into our schools,” he said.
Committee member Jared Nicholson also supported the decision, saying that the school district should continue to base its decisions on the advice of its public health experts, particularly in a hard-hit community like Lynn.
“At the same time, I know that we all know that there are real tradeoffs in the amount of learning our students are missing out on, and those tradeoffs are so particularly acute for those groups of students,” said Nicholson. “I know we all share the goal of getting them back as soon as possible when it’s safe to do so.”