Cancelled Over Corona

By Mira Yu, Staff Writer

On March 13, Mayor Martin Walsh and Superintendent Brenda Cassellius released a joint statement announcing the closure of all Boston Public Schools (BPS) due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Although the end date may change depending on how quickly the situation improves, all schools, including Boston Latin School, will be closed from Tuesday, March 17 to Monday, April 27, making BPS the 50th school district in Massachusetts to close. The decision for the shutdown came briefly after a previous announcement Mayor Walsh had made during a press conference that morning that schools would remain open. Shortly after this, on Sunday, Governor Charlie Baker declared all Massachusetts schools, with the exception of residential schools and schools for special needs students, closed for at least three weeks.
All schools were kept open on Monday, March 16, to allow for students to collect important materials, pick up Chromebooks and receive crucial information from their teachers, counselors or administrators regarding the transition to online learning. Teachers are expected to begin assigning work on March 23.
Despite the substantial pressure the district received from concerned families, History Program Director Mr. Thomas Kennelly says that closing school would be “very disruptive, especially for students that rely on having breakfast and lunch at school, and students who rely on school nurses for healthcare, parents who would be required to stay home because schools are closed and students losing access to important services in addition to their education.”
Prior to the full-scale cancellation, BPS canceled all international school-sponsored trips for the rest of the year on March 6, including the BLS trips to Beijing and Eastern Europe.
In an email Headmaster Rachel Skerritt describes as “a little confusing”, Superintendent Cassellius asks those who had traveled to Level III Travel Health Notice countries, such as Italy, to self-quarantine for two weeks. Students who recently returned from the biannual BLS trip to Italy, however, were not subject to this quarantine, according to specific guidance from the Health Commission and Services.
This decision from the Superintendent drew criticism from some students. Jordan Klysner (I), who attended the Italy trip, says, “I feel that the school and the district responded reactively rather than proactively. They sent the notification to students the day after the quarantine period was supposed to have ended. I find this too conveniently timed to be seen as them simply looking out for students.”
Students who had planned to travel to Beijing this year as part of the foreign exchange program will instead travel during the April break of next year. Although most students who were scheduled to travel were in Class III, graduating seniors will not be able to attend. Out of the current Class IV students interested in traveling to Beijing next year, a smaller group of students will be selected and combined with the group that was supposed to go this year.
In addition, the trip to Eastern Europe for students taking the Facing History course has been tentatively rescheduled for Thanksgiving break of the next school year. Students will not receive refunds for flight tickets, and it is unclear whether graduating seniors will be able to attend.
Regarding the cancellation of the Eastern Europe trip, Ruth Shiferaw (II) expresses that, “it’s hard to reschedule [the trip]; it’s a lot of money, and we were all looking forward to going on the trip.”
Prior to the district-wide cancellation, fear of spreading the virus also triggered the cancellation of all BPS sports team practices and many BLS events, including Career Day, the MMEA Junior District festival, the student-faculty talent show, the Junior Classical League state convention, Catapulta’s Pi Day, all Wolfpack Volunteers events in March, and the Massachusetts Speech & Debate League State Finals.
In light of these cancellations, students from the clubs, Asian Students In Action, Wolfpack Volunteers, Calligraphy and Red Cross, worked together to raise money and buy supplies, including medical masks, and send them to hospitals in Wuhan, which was the epicenter of the pandemic. Over five days, students Austin Lang (I), Jess Schnitzer (I), Alex Cheung (I), Jenny Wang (II) and Jiajia Zhang (IV), along with project advisor Ms. Jesse Kwan, posted flyers, gave announcements, ran bake sales and raffles and used social media to raise a thousand dollars in total.
Lang praises the collaborative nature of the project, saying that “[Headmaster] Skerritt was extremely helpful and provided timely feedback to my ideas. Both the students and the parents of the school community were very supportive over the course of the project.”
In the meantime, BPS will continue to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students at several locations every Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 11:30 A.M. throughout the duration of the cancellation.