Expert Advisory Panel 4 discusses concerns over moving towards in-person learning



Expert Advisory Panel 4 met to discuss increasing the amount of students in the in-person learning model. The topic remains contentious amid new COVID-19 cases and the concerns of educators.

Expert Advisory Panel 4: Public Health, Safety, and Logistics addressed concerns about moving towards an in-person learning environment during their Zoom meeting on Friday, Feb. 5th.

David Gacioch started the meeting by going over the community case metrics update. According to Gacioch, the Brookline test positivity rates have dropped to 1.5-2 percent over the past four weeks.

Coordinator of School Health Services Tricia Laham remarked that PSB COVID-19 case counts have been extremely consistent, and were similar to last week’s counts.

David Gacioch shared a graphic depicting the rates and case counts of COVID-19 per 100k population comparing the state, region and various other towns, including Brookline. (VALENTIA BURLAK/SAGAMORE STAFF)

The panel proceeded to talk about the possibility of increasing the amount of students in a classroom in the coming weeks and months. Gacioch said staff vaccinations would play a crucial role in fully reopening schools.

“There are very low levels of [in-person] school transmissions despite there being very high levels of community prevalence,” Gacioch said.

A dashboard published by the Public Schools of Brookline in December of 2020 provides context for this claim, with the most recent numbers showing a case count of 214 individuals. Contact with these individuals meanwhile is limited with only 46 of those 214 being exposed to other students and faculty.

Deputy Director of the Emergency Preparedness, Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard School of Public Health Elena Savoia said the six-foot distancing rule is not required to protect students and faculty from the spread of COVID-19.

“There is evidence present from other countries that it’s safe to maintain at least three feet of distance with masks on,” Savoia said.

In response to this, the advisory panel took a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines in terms of school lunch. Gacioch read aloud the following information as host of the meeting.

“If communal dining halls or cafeterias will be used, ensure that children remain at least six feet apart in food service lines and at tables when eating,” Gacioch read.

General Pediatrics and Developmental-Behavioral Pediatric Doctor Erik von Hahn reminded the panel that the six-foot distance was established out of an abundance of caution.

Medical Director at MassHealth Lakshman Swamy said how safety of the kids is the most important aspect of hybrid learning, especially giving them time to take off their masks.

“The most important thing is that we’re focusing on the real problem now, unmasked time. The biggest thing to consider here is the safety of the kids. We need to advise some sort of physical barrier,” Swamy said.

Pierce School Vice Principal, Jamie Yadoff discussed the importance of keeping kids safe whilst teachers feel pressured to maintain a safe and healthy atmosphere in the classroom.

“When you’re imagining how you are going to keep 16, 18 or 20 children safe when at the end of the day you aren’t even sure whether you’ve kept 8 or 10 safe, that is soul crushing for educators. Teachers are hurting, and they are hurting in a way that I can not even put into words,” Yadoff said. “When you talk about doubling the number of kids teachers will need to keep safe, that is terrifying.”