Brookline School Committee considers new COVID-19 protocols



Interim Superintendent Dr. James Marini speaks about potentially reducing distancing protocols within schools.

The Brookline School Committee (BSC) met on Feb. 18 to discuss potentially reducing social distancing within the classroom. In addition to new distancing requirements, new ways to get more students into hybrid learning were discussed.

Assistant Head of School Hal Mason explained that the Old Lincoln School (OLS) does not have the space to safely accommodate any more students that are looking to switch from remote to in person learning.

“It varies between 75 percent to 90 percent utilization of the classroom,” Mason said. “If you went by an OLS classroom, you would see in a room that we judged with a capacity of 12, you would find 10 or 11 kids in those classes most days. And some days you would find seven kids in those classes.”

Mason said it would be challenging to get OLS to a point where it could accommodate more in person students due to the limited amount of space.

“It would be hard because it is limited by the furniture that is there. We’ve got 5 foot tables, so if I seat two people at a 5 foot table, they’re not sitting 5 feet apart, they’re really sitting maybe 3 feet apart if that,” Mason said. “It’s not just as simple as saying reduce it by one foot, and we can automatically increase the capacity by that 20 percent.”

Expert Advisory Panel 4: Public Health, Safety, and Logistics member David Gacioch said that based on the data that his panel has discussed, the difference between a few feet of distance is insignificant in situations where people are properly masked.

“The Mayo Clinic Data that we looked at shows that the distance makes a difference. For instance, if you’re not wearing masks, that’s where the six-foot distance guideline initially came from,” Gacioch said. “If you don’t have masks on, distance makes a much bigger difference in protecting you. If you have masks on and other protections in place, you’ve basically already covered all of that ground that distance would cover.”

Gacioch went further by explaining other studies that had been done in Europe, where shorter distances offered the same results in terms of protection in situations where people were properly masked.

“There are several studies, mostly of European context, where the required distance was in line with the WHO (World Health Organization) guidance of one meter or 1.5 meters, so 3.3 feet or 4.9 feet. In which the same conclusions that you see in the studies here have been drawn,” Gacioch said.

In addition to social distancing requirements, Finance Subcommittee Chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff discussed the importance of getting students back to learning in the school building.

“I personally have said many times that mental health is health, mental health is public health, and right now the public health risks, if you include physical and mental health of children not being in school, I think have surpassed the risks of not being in school in Brookline,” said Ditkoff.

Ditkoff said that the Public Schools of Brookline have done a great job keeping students and faculty safe during the pandemic, and because of the cooperation from the community, Brookline Schools are far safer than any other place people may choose to congregate.

“We have full ventilation, we have between four and eight ACH (air changes) per hour, we have upgraded MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) filtration systems, we have supplemental hepa filters, we have really good compliance thanks to our staff and faculty,” Diktoff said. “I honestly think that our schools are far more safe than any other single place where kids and staff could congregate.”