HAVERHILL — The Haverhill Public Schools' annual eighth grade rite-of-passage known as the Washington, D.C., trip is being called off this year due to the new coronavirus, commonly called COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Superintendent Margaret Marotta confirmed that she is heeding the warnings issued by both Gov. Charlie Baker and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley in making what she deemed the “unprecedented” decision to cancel all out-of-state travel for students due to the threat of possible illness.
According to Marotta, the trips are booked individually between parents and the travel agencies, like Capital Tours and WorldStrides, with the school system not a party to the transactions. However, the School Department is working with the agencies and “advocating for families” to receive the maximum possible refund, Marotta said.
“This is unprecedented and evolving as more schools and government agencies become involved in the situation,” Marotta said. “We will keep families posted as we become aware of new information that may impact the situation.”
On Tuesday, the COVID-19 outbreak was declared to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization. There have been 938 cases reported in the United States as of noon Wednesday. Twenty-nine patients have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Marotta issued a memo to staff and administrators at the city's public schools Tuesday that although Haverhill is considered to be at “low risk” for the disease, the School Department continues to put contingencies in place should the illness make it to the Merrimack Valley.
“We are going into this with our eyes wide open,” Marotta said in the email to staff. “We know there are many obstacles ahead of us in the event of long-term school closures. By working together, being prepared in advance of a possible crisis will make all the difference for our students' success.”
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires students to attend 180 days of school, with this year's planned last day of school scheduled for June 17.
All days lost to health, weather or safety emergencies must be made up to ensure a 180-day school year or until the district has reached its previously scheduled 185th day, whichever comes first, Marotta said. So far, Haverhill has had three snow days.
While Mayor James Fiorentini has said Haverhill is not certified to offer full remote learning to students, Marotta said some opportunities may be made available through Google Classroom.
Marotta said her staff also keeps the other needs of students in mind when developing backup plans for a possible “widespread outbreak.” She said she has been in contact with the school's meal provider, Whitsons, to bring breakfast and lunch to students in the community if need be, and is looking to work with community partners to arrange childcare for families who need it.
Haverhill Board of Health Chairman Dr. Romie Mundy of Holy Family Hospital has assured city residents that common sense is key to navigating the coronavirus.
"For all the $200 bottles of Purell you can get off of eBay, soap and water and a little bit of time is honestly better," Mundy said. "When we have a huge disease, we want there to be an awesome fix, but common sense will do a lot of good."