By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Region – They spent much of the day on conference calls.
When the evening came, superintendents across the region were then recording shorter phone calls informing parents that they were closing schools for the foreseeable future.
Amid the ever pressing COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the public-school districts in Hudson, Marlborough, Northborough/Southborough, Shrewsbury, Westborough and Grafton all announced closures. At the same time, the Advanced Math and Science Academy, as well as Assabet Valley High School, both in Marlborough, and St. John’s, in Shrewsbury also cancelled classes.
“The decision to close school was not made lightly or in isolation,” wrote Hudson Superintendent Marco Rodrigues in a letter to parents. “This is an ever-evolving and unprecedented situation that will have a tremendous effect on all of our families, and we feel strongly that this step is necessary for the protection of our community.”
At a meeting with Wesborough officials March 12, School Superintendent Amber Bock noted the decision was not “to just close the schools – its more complex”. Of course, the safety of the students and staff was paramount, she stressed but factors such as children who had food insecurities or fragile health programs, as well as those who were in extended day programs, had to be considered.
“We need to quickly and nimbly figure these things out,” she said. “Students who are medically fragile – we give six hours of respite care to their families.”
The cancellations of classes do take varying forms across the region.
Shrewsbury, Westborough, AMSA, St. John’s, and Grafton plan to reevaluate whether to reopen schools after one week, on March 23.
Hudson, Marlborough, Assabet and Northborough/Southborough, meanwhile, will remain closed all the way through March 30.
As all seven school systems issued similar statements, promises of transparency abounded.
“Families and staff can expect additional updates with detailed information in the days ahead,” Shrewsbury Superintendent Joe Sawyer wrote in his letter.
The sudden flood of cancellations came as administrators and state officials faced growing pressure to close amid an outbreak that many say will require immense “social distancing” to curtail.
The same day as these cancellations, Governor Charlie Baker announced a ban on any gatherings of more than 250 people. In Rhode Island, the governor there followed countless others across the country in cancelling all public-school classes in the state.
Even as that pressure mounted, however, superintendents across the region, indeed, delayed decisions until after a conference call early on March 13.
That call gathered school officials from across the state on the same line with officials in Boston and sought to clarify recommended responses as Gov. Baker ultimately announced he would not unilaterally close schools as other states had.
In the hours that followed that call, many of the Community Advocate coverage area’s superintendents then spoke in a second, smaller virtual conference according to a secretary reached at the Grafton Public Schools.
That meeting finally broke up late in the afternoon, leaving district leaders a few short hours to draft statements and then officially close schools almost simultaneously in the early evening.
After a tumultuous week of dire developments at the national and state level, this latest round of school closures has local students settling in-to an uncertain period of days and weeks.
As officials say they’ll keep parents informed as they also work out issues particularly in supplying low income students with the free lunches they rely on, superintendents themselves say “prudence” has and will continue to drive their actions.
“The situation continues to change rapidly,” Sawyer wrote in his statement. “…I feel that it is judicious to be cautious.”