BOSTON — They are caught between the need to avoid COVID and the equivalent need to get back in the classroom. But for now, some Massachusetts kids are missing school because they are at high risk of developing severe illness from a virus that usually causes only mild symptoms in the young. And they’re too young to get vaccinated.
Bethany Van Delft Moffi’s daughter Lulu, who turns 10 in November, is one of them. As a baby, she suffered frequent bouts of croup that required treatment with steroids. At one point, surgeons proposed an operation to widen Lulu’s airways.
“She’s had pneumonia a few times and then in 2019 she got a respiratory virus,” Moffi said. “She was sick for three weeks.”
With the Delta variant infecting thousands of children in schools across the country, Moffi feared sending Lulu back to the Henderson Inclusion School in Boston, a place, she said, where her daughter has thrived.
Moffi has joined hundreds of others in Massachusetts in calling on the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to lift its objection to full-time remote learning as a substitute for classroom learning until a vaccine is approved for all children in school.
“How is remote learning so evil that sending our kids back at great risk is better,” Moffi asked. “Honestly, what is the problem with offering this option?”
The problem, from an administrative view, may be that the train has left the station.
DESE tells Boston 25 News it allowed districts to set up virtual schools for this academic year, and seven communities opted to do so: Attleboro, Brockton, Chelsea, Peabody, Pittsfield, Springfield and Westfield. But, applications for those schools had to be in for review to DESE by May 6, just about two months before the CDC declared the Delta variant – which is responsible for the large number of school infections seen in recent weeks – dominant in the U.S.
Courtney Feeley Karp’s daughter, Lucy, was supposed to start second grade at the Henderson School last week. She, too, is home.
“School has been the most positive place for her, and we want nothing more than to send her back,” Karp said.
But the Karps aren’t sending her back because Lucy’s got a history of pulmonary issues stemming from her extremely premature birth.
“She was born at 26 weeks, at just one pound six ounces,” Karp said. “Spent five months in the Beth Israel NICU just to be able to come home.”
Karp said the rules on remote learning were made at a time when few were thinking about a summer/fall surge fueled by the Delta variant.
“We’re just asking for flexibility,” Karp said. “We say, yes, we all want to go back to normal, but we’re not there. Delta has prevented that from happening, and we need to respond appropriately.”
Both Moffi and Karp have been warned in recent days that keeping their children out of school violates truancy laws.
“It’s been explained to us three times [that] they will be deemed truant [and] we will be penalized, and we’re terrified to learn what that penalty is,” Moffi said. “I know one penalty is they’ll be unenrolled from their school.”
That would especially sting, Moffi said, as Boston schools operate on a lottery system in which vacated seats are quite possibly lost for good, especially at high-demand schools.
“And then we would face the same challenge of my daughter not being in a school where she’s fully included where she has been for the past almost seven years,” Moffi said.
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