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Possible school closures loom in Pittsfield amid the COVID spike — but remote learning not on the table

Superintendent Joseph Curtis in office

Pittsfield Schools Superintendent Joseph Curtis delivered a video message to the school community on Wednesday alerting families that the spike in COVID cases among staff members could result in the closure of a school or schools in the coming days or weeks.

PITTSFIELD — In a sober message to parents, students and staff members on Wednesday, Pittsfield schools Superintendent Joseph Curtis warned that the day may soon be approaching when the district will need to close a school — or all schools — due to rising numbers of COVID cases throughout the district.

But should that day come, he said, any missed days would be made up later in-person rather than returning to a remote learning model.

During the 3-minute video message sent out shortly after 11 a.m., Curtis told families that any closures would likely be the result of increasing cases among staff members that could “interfere with our ability to safely supervise students.”

“Our school leaders, teachers and support staff clearly understand how school closure or remote learning has impacted our students and staff,” he said. “I can assure you that our entire staff is going above and beyond to keep our schools open.”

The superintendent said in his message to families that if the need arises for an emergency closure, the school will treat the closure like a snow or weather day and make up the time away from school at the end of the year.

He made no mention of plans to return to remote learning during potential closures, and has previously made clear that the district was not considering remote learning as a viable option for students this school year.

“We must take every mitigation measure to ensure that our students remain in in-person school for the entire school year,” Curtis said during a School Committee meeting in August. “We cannot have another school year where our students are going back and forth between hybrid learning and remote learning.”

School principals are reportedly maintaining running lists of the number of staff members who are out sick and communicating with administrators “each night and early morning” when they have concerns about staffing levels, he said.

Staff cases are highest at Taconic High School where as of Wednesday morning 10 staff members were out of work with the coronavirus. Prior to this week no school had reported more than 4 staff cases at one time.

“There is no threshold or number that drives a decision to close, rather an analysis of each school’s staffing levels and the ability to operate school safely,” Curtis said.

Coronavirus cases among students and staff members reached their highest point this school year on Wednesday — with 73 students and 35 staff members reporting active coronavirus cases districtwide.

Student cases more than quadrupled between Saturday and Monday rising from 15 to 73 cases as the holiday break ended. District staff reported an additional 15 cases in that same time period.

The prior peak in school district coronavirus cases was Nov. 20 when 71 students and 7 staff members were out sick with the virus. That peak was brought on by an outbreak at Morningside Community School. The outbreak caused district leaders to close second grade classrooms at the school for the week leading up to the Thanksgiving break.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6149.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

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