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Friday March 13 at 9:44P.M. 

Lunenburg Superintendent Explains Closure of Lunenburg Public Schools

LUNENBURG -- Effective immediately, Lunenburg Public Schools will be closed for two weeks, with classes resuming on Monday March 30, due to prevention efforts to stop the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Superintendent of Lunenburg Public Schools Dr. Kate Burnham made the decision to close, Friday evening, as part of a collective effort with the Worcester County Superintendents Association. 

“There were a lot of moving parts to this, and we were trying to make decisions on how to move forward,” Burnham said. “This collaboration and communication among superintendents has been really valuable… We just came to a point where it was time for us to make some decisions, and not necessarily wait for state agencies to make this decision for us.”

In addition to the regular school day not taking place, there will be no after school activities, extended day, sports, or any other programming that takes place at the school. Custodial staff will be the only employees at the buildings, and they will be sanitizing and cleaning the facilities, Burnham said. As the temporary closing period progresses, Central Office staff may eventually return to the school before it reopens. 

Burnham said that the superintendents from districts across the state, along with the Department of Public Health, and the Commissioner of Education, had a conference call last week on the topic. The group had another conference call on Friday morning, and Burnham said that the current phase of the coronavirus-spread is at a mitigation level. She notes that given the other precautions that organizations and governments are taking in Massachusetts and across the country, the superintendents' felt that it was appropriate to close schools. 

“We’re supposed to be doing things that slow the spread of the virus,” Burnham said. “Given some of the other decisions that have been made at the state level, around gatherings of larger groups, knowing that other organizations like the National Basketball Association are (postponing or cancelling) seasons, I think we started to feel that staying open was not the best thing to do right now, because we feel we have an obligation to the larger communities, as well as to our students, to think about the public health threat.”

The closure of Lunenburg Public Schools was not due to an immediate threat or reported case. Published reports show the threat to students is less than that posed to seniors and those with underlying health conditions. But Burnham said she had to take into account the families of students, whether it be parents or grandparents, and those vulnerable to the coronavirus. Another consideration is staff and faculty members that are nearing retirement age, that could be more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus. 

“You could have family members at home that are dealing with compromised immune-systems,” Burnham said. “You could have family members undergoing treatment for cancer, which would compromise their health. You have extended family members, above the age of 60, potentially being exposed, if the kids were to be exposed. We wanted to make sure that we were acting in the best interest of all involved. We have -- across the state -- staff members that are above the age of 60, so we have to give some consideration to that.”

If there is an emergency item left in a student’s locker, parents can contact Central Office, Burnham said, but it would need to be a compelling reason to retrieve it, and the possibility of accessing the lockers would be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The goal is to keep the schools off limits to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

“(In terms of accessing student items) we’re closing the school for a reason,” Burnham said. “I really hope that families understand that we are closing, to do our part in minimizing the spread of the virus. But I think that we all need to do our part… and I would hope that families would not look at this window of time as an extended vacation, and go off with their children to public areas -- the movie theater, the mall, Chuck E. Cheese -- we’re your exposing the entire family to potential risk of contracting coronavirus. I hope that parents will be mindful that we’re trying to keep the kids safe, and keep the community safe.”

Although more prevalent in poorer urban school districts, food insecurity is a concern for students that rely upon school-provided school lunches as a source of survival. Burnham said that plans are in the works to support families struggling to feed their children, with the help of the kitchen staff and the district’s transportation company. Burnham said the state will likely reimburse districts with more than 50 percent of their student population eligible for free lunch, and even though Lunenburg doesn’t meet that criterion, the district will provide the food because she says it’s ‘the right thing to do’. 

“It’s more of a concern (for urban districts), but it is also a concern for Lunenburg,” Burnham said. “We do have families in these circumstances, and we’re developing a plan where we will communicate directly to those families, relative to providing a version of a grab-and-go breakfast and lunch package (for the students). We’re looking at the possibility of having a pick-up, at a school location, and we’re also looking at the possibility of working with our transportation company, and discussing if they are willing to provide food to our (students) during the time we are closed. We are working on the details of the program, and will notify eligible families directly.”

For parents wishing for a quicker decision to close schools, Burnham says she was consulting with fellow educational leaders and public health experts, and decisions had a basis in facts. The recent discussions led the superintendents taking proactive measures.

Next week’s important budget hearing for the Lunenburg School Committee, scheduled for Wednesday at the Lunenburg Middle High School, is subject to change and there may also be other restrictions.  

The Lunenburg Ledger is an independently-owned small business and community newspaper based in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. Its ownership P. Enterprises, also owns the neighboring Ayer-Shirley Tracker. Digital subscriptions cost $30 per year, and print starts at $55. 

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