Published March 18, 2020

By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread across the state, country and globe, Lynnfield Public Schools will be closed until Tuesday, April 7.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Sunday, March 15 that schools across the state will be closed for three weeks. Baker’s decision took place two days after Superintendent Jane Tremblay decided to close all four schools for two weeks. She made that decision after participating on a conference call with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health last Friday. Lynnfield joined 27 other North Shore school districts in deciding to close their respective schools before the state’s move.

“My very first priority is always the safety and well-being of our students, the adults in our buildings and our families,” said Tremblay during the emergency School Committee meeting on March 12. “As we deal with COVID-19, the one thing we can agree on is there are many unknowns right now. This is literally changing by the minute. I think it is time for us as a community to just stop. We need to pause, we need to take a breath and we need to regroup. That is why I am going to close the schools.”

In a letter sent to parents on Sunday, March 15, Tremblay noted that Baker stressed during a press conference that “this is not vacation time.”

“Families should not be gathering together for social engagements,” said Tremblay. “It is strongly encouraged that you gather only with your immediate family.”

While schools are closed for the next three weeks, Tremblay will continue working closely with the Emergency Management Team and state officials as the crisis continues to evolve. The team will be discussing the situation daily.

“This is uncharted territory and it is really important for all of us to work together in order to keep our community, our schools, our students and our families safe,” said Tremblay.

The DESE has notified school districts that no district will have to go past June 30 and that school districts will not have to go beyond their planned 185th day of school, regardless of the COVID-19 situation.

Tremblay stated in the letter that the Administrative Leadership Team will be discussing “how to best support families at this time.”

“This will include gathering enrichment materials and resources to share with families in order to keep students engaged,” said Tremblay.

The MIAA has also delayed the start of spring sports. All town fields and parks are closed until further notice.

Tremblay also said before and after-school activities are closed through April vacation, including Community Schools programming. Lynnfield Community Schools Director Michaelann Herook stated on Facebook that families who paid their bills for programming while school is closed will be given a refund.

“Thank you for your ongoing patience and understanding as we navigate through these challenging times,” Tremblay stated in the letter.

Summer Street closure

The decision to close all four schools took place after Tremblay announced in a letter sent to families on Wednesday, March 11 that a Summer Street School employee was potentially exposed to two people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Fire Chief/Emergency Management Director Glenn Davis briefed the School Committee about the situation. He said two non-Lynnfield residents attended a large event in a community outside of Boston earlier this month. He said both people tested “presumptive positive for the COVID-19 virus.”

“The Summer Street School employee was also present at that event,” said Davis. “Based on a personal conversation I had with the Massachusetts state epidemiologist, the exposure risk is felt to be extremely low due to the fact that the two positive cases were non-symptomatic at the time of the event. Based on data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numbers coming out of China and across the globe, it has been determined by epidemiology that the more likely spread of this disease is direct contact with droplets that are produced when someone coughs or sneezes. The risk factor is determined to be very low. It’s not zero or non-existent, but it is very low risk.”

After the Emergency Management Team had a lengthy discussion about the situation, Davis said local officials decided to close Summer Street School for two days in order to thoroughly clean the school.

“The buses were also cleaned and disinfected,” said Davis. “I am very committed to the town of Lynnfield and the safety of all the residents.”

School Committee Chairman Jamie Hayman said local officials will not be releasing the name of the Summer Street employee due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). He said the person will be quarantined for two weeks.

“Our main concern is their health and well-being,” said Hayman. “We hope they come through this without developing any symptoms.”

Hayman inquired if the community will be notified if the employee is diagnosed with COVID-19.

“If things do progress to the point of a presumptive positive or a positive test, our local Board of Health will be notified immediately,” said Davis. “We would be secondarily notified because this person does not live in Lynnfield. That community will be notified and then we would be notified.”

DPW Director John Tomasz noted his department “ratcheted up” cleaning the town’s schools as well as municipal buildings before the Summer Street incident.

“Everything we do is recommended by the CDC and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health,” said Tomasz. “That is how we sanitize things and clean things, and the clothes people are wearing. I feel confident that when students and teachers do go back, the schools will be as sanitized as you can possibly make it.”

Hayman thanked the Emergency Management Team, particularly Tremblay, for working diligently to keep students, faculty, staff and families safe.

“When I have been talking to families about this, I remind people that the School Department’s expertise is educating our children,” said Hayman. “They are not public health experts and when a situation like this occurs, we rely on the expertise and input of others. This situation has been changing minute-by-minute and all of the decisions have been guided by our number one goal, which is the safety and well-being of our students, teachers, families and our community.”