For Boston parent Nalida Besson, more data means more trust. She wishes it would be easier to see if there’s a COVID-19 outbreak in her kids’ schools this fall.
But this year, the department of Elementary and Secondary Education has announced it will no longer collect and publish school-level COVID infection rates.
Besson said the policy adds to her general uncertainty and anxiety over sending her kids back to the classroom amid the current Delta variant outbreak.
"It’s almost like the train is just driving and the train is going to derail and we’re like 'Should we fix the breaks or slow it down,' " she said. "We’re just moving forward without thinking about what could happen and how to mitigate it more."
Besson said she's glad that Boston Public Schools will be enforcing a mask policy. But she said she worries about transmission at lunch time, when students won't be wearing a mask while they eat. Besson said she'd like to see that district-level data to give her some additional peace of mind about infection risks in school.
The state's Department of Public Health will still collect COVID infection information and identifying outbreaks in specific settings, including schools.
Officials add that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's data last year was more of an informal tally.
Glenn Koocher with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees said he’s not surprised by the move. He said collecting and publishing infection information was labor intensive for schools and not always reliable because the system depended on parents and staff to self-report positive cases to their districts.
"I don’t think it’s for any nefarious reason," said Koocher. "I just think that they don’t have the capacity to do it ... You’re asking people trying to gather data that’s very difficult to collect."
Koocher added that publishing school-level data is not a priority for district leaders right now. Most school committee members are currently focused on masking policies.
"The overwhelming majority of people that we’ve heard from, including school committee members and elected officials, is that the greater level of masking, the more confidence people are going to have in coming back to school," Koocher explained.
But Koocher acknowledged that, if and when outbreaks do happen in classrooms, having easily searchable district-level infection rates could suddenly become a top priority.