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Schools prepare for three-week shutdown; home learning continues

With nationwide reports of COVID-19 cases increasing with every news cycle, Gov. Charlie Baker on Sunday ordered all public and private schools in the commonwealth closed for three weeks, from Tuesday this week until a tentative return date of Tuesday, April 7. Harvard’s School Superintendent Linda Dwight had already put in place a three-day closure for local schools beginning last Friday, March 13, and it will now continue until the state’s closure is lifted.

In her March 12 email announcing the closure to the Harvard school community, Dwight wrote, “We want to contribute to the slowdown of the spread of the virus to help medical providers treat those with symptoms and increase recovery rates.” Experts consider slowing the virus’ spread—described as “flattening the curve”—a necessary step to prevent medical facilities from being overwhelmed by a sudden surge of cases. “We all play a part in slowing down the spread of this virus,” Dwight wrote to families.

As of Monday, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Harvard school community, but Dwight noted that some families were awaiting test results. In a later letter, Dwight asked families to contact one of the school nurses by email if anyone in the family did contract the disease during the school closure, saying the information would be kept confidential but would help administrators plan the reopening of the schools.

Because the Friday closure was announced after the end of the school day last Thursday, March 12, students were allowed to return to school during specified hours Monday and Tuesday to pick up everything from books and learning materials to gym clothes.

In the wake of Baker’s statewide school closure, Dwight wrote again to both families and teachers separately. She urged families to maintain social distancing, limit playdates, and avoid the kind of trips they might take during an ordinary school break. She also told families that plans for distance learning would soon be available, and in a later letter said a link on the school website would organize home-learning communication by grade and teacher.

In a letter to teachers, Dwight provided a general outline of the plans for distance learning. For the elementary school, the plan is to provide material for review and enrichment lessons once a week, while saving the introduction of new material until students are back in class. Teachers may also send more frequent ideas for other optional activities such as stories or virtual chats.

For Bromfield, teachers will communicate with students once or twice a week at most, Monday through Thursday, with different subjects assigned to different days. Dwight emphasized that staggering the days for various subjects was aimed at lowering stress for everyone involved. The district is awaiting word from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on any changes related to MCAS, Advanced Placement testing, and graduation.

For families of students who rely on the free or reduced-price lunch at school, Dwight wrote, “Chef Paul [Correnty] and his staff are contacting families and providing meals as needed.” She suggested that anyone wanting to help families with food insecurity could donate to Loaves & Fishes through the organization’s website, (Chef Paul’s soup sales, which usually take place every other Thursday, have been suspended for the time being.)

Although a construction ban has been issued within Boston, no restrictions have affected the elementary school building project, and construction work goes on there. Building committee Chair SusanMary Redinger said the weekly construction management meeting Wednesday was scheduled to be done virtually. The construction company Shawmut has reached out to vendors, she said, and no delay in materials was expected so far.

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