Update from the Superintendent: March 14, 2020

Dear CPS Community:

This has been a challenging week for our community, although as of this message, we have not learned of any positive COVID-19 cases among CPS students and staff. We know that many of you are concerned about whether there could be unidentified cases, where individuals might present with mild or no symptoms and we fully understand this worry.

Claude Jacob, Chief Public Health Officer and Director of the Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD), has advised that, “We are at a pivotal juncture in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Cambridge and neighboring communities. It is time for all of us in Cambridge—local government, businesses, schools, nonprofits, and residents—to take immediate actions to reduce the number of people who may become sick due to the virus.” Closing schools is one way that we are doing our part to heed this advice.

Community Cases, Staff Rising to the Challenge
Some of you may be aware of CPHD’s announcement yesterday that three Cambridge residents have tested positive for COVID-19, including two “presumptive positives” and one “confirmed positive.”

CPHD has shared that these individuals were connected to Biogen, that they are all adults, and that they have no known connection to CPS students or families. Our thoughts are with these individuals and their loved ones, and we encourage our community to continue to demonstrate consideration for one another by refraining from stigmatizing those affected by the virus.

Although details such as this may raise a number of fears, I want to share some of the ways that our community is pulling together to support one another during this challenging time. Yesterday:

  • Every elementary student who attended school went home with books, and chromebooks were made available for every student in grades 3 - 8 to access digital and paper learning resources during the closure (more on this below).
  • Many educators went above and beyond to prepare, print, and distribute materials to help ensure students have enriching learning experiences during the closure. 
  • Family liaisons and social workers arranged for students to bring home extra food, including through our Weekend Backpack Program and Falcon’s Food Pantry.
  • Bilingual staff signed on to continue to record urgent community messages in Spanish, Haitian Creole, Arabic, and Amharic.
  • Food and Nutrition Services staff finalized a plan for supporting needed efforts to participate in local food distribution networks next week.
  • Facilities employees readied themselves for additional cleaning and disinfection of all buildings, given concerns about potential community spread -- a service that we trust will make all of our students and staff feel safer.
  • Community members reached out with generous donations and offers of their time and volunteer services.

Please know what we are listening to your concerns and feedback. The following updates reflect key questions received from students, staff, and families on Thursday and Friday.

1. School Closure Details
As you know, CPS buildings will be closed to students and the public Monday, March 16 to Friday, March 27 to help prevent the spread of this virus. We know that this decision has a significant impact on our community. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we respond to this rapidly evolving public health situation.

  • The primary purpose of closing schools is to lower the risk of transmission of illnesses between people, although our custodians will be performing deep cleaning over the break. This is not a typical vacation, snow day, or other closure and we appreciate everyone’s flexibility, patience, and concern for the community. 
  • Staff will receive follow-up messages and instructions in the coming days.

2. The Purpose of School Closures is “Social Distancing”
Among the questions we have received from families are requests for guidance on how their children should interact with others during this time. Your individual choices should be guided by your health situation and whether someone in your household is a member of a high risk group.

In general, social distancing means protecting the health of the community and yourself by reducing contact with others. We will share more detailed expert advice as it becomes available, however general guidance includes:

  • Avoid crowded public places where close contact with others may occur, such as shopping centers, movie theaters, and stadiums/arenas/auditoriums.
  • Maintain distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible.
  • It’s important for kids to get active outside time every day, and research shows daily time outdoors boosts both kids’ and adults’ health and wellbeing. When taking walks/runs outside, maintain distance from others as much as possible.

As always, practice excellent personal hygiene habits, including handwashing, coughing into tissue or elbow, and avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth.

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. As always, if you are sick, definitely stay home and contact a medical professional.

3. CPS Continues to Support Students & Families During Closure:

  • Distance Learning Resources: We continue to work on plans to support student learning during the closure by providing resources. More information will be shared soon.

  • Chromebooks for Grades 3 - 8: For those students who did not already receive their Chromebooks yesterday, schools are sharing information on how to pick up a Chromebook from your school on Monday. If you already have a computer at home that you feel is adequate and safe for your child to access online school work, you do not need to pick up a CPS-issued Chromebook. Families who do not have access to the internet at home should contact their schools so that we can provide you with options.

  • Food Distribution: Later in the weekend, we will be sharing more details about ways that families can access food assistance during the weeks that schools are closed. We will share this information via phone call and text message, in addition to email, in order to reach all families.

4. Ways to stay informed

  • A new section of the City of Cambridge website contains announcements from public health, libraries, safety officials, and CPS.
  • Please keep your contact information up to date with your school by emailing the School Clerk with any changes to phone numbers or email addresses.
  • If you are not currently receiving text messages from CPS, such as the one sent Thursday night to announce the school closure, please text HELP to 675-87. When prompted, type Y.

Finally, I want to express my personal appreciation for the many messages of support, appreciation, and concern that we have received in the past several days. For my part, I am healthy and working hard to direct our efforts remotely. This is a challenging time in our community but the spirit of generosity and mutual support -- even across social distances -- is comforting to us all.

Sincerely,

Kenneth N. Salim, Ed.D.
Superintendent

Additional Reminders

  • All programming located in CPS buildings including DHSP afterschool, pre-school, and Community Schools, are closed during this school closure.
  • If you are interested in supporting volunteer efforts to distribute food to vulnerable populations during school closures, please sign up for information from the Food For Free volunteer mobilization team.
  • Are you a community-based partner? We can add you to our email list so you can help share information with your families and community. Click here >>
  • Click here for additional information for CPS Staff >>
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