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Rats, roosters and sick Boston employees latest Methadone Mile misery

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Rats, roosters and sick Boston employees latest Methadone Mile misery

Multiple city workers on Mass and Cass have ended up in the hospital in recent weeks with a nasty stomach bug as sanitary conditions on Methadone Mile reach an all-time low, the workers’ union says as reports from the Mile include sick rats and live roosters.

One worker at the Boston Public Health Commission’s “engagement center” who wished to remain anonymous told the Herald he’d caught a brutal illness that laid him out for the entirety of last week. It wasn’t the coronavirus, as he tested negative — and the symptoms were those of a stomach bug rather than respiratory disease, anyway.

“This place is not the cleanest place in the world, fruit flies everywhere. You got rats running around everywhere,” the worker said, adding that in his mind it doesn’t make sense that there would be a cluster of illness among his compatriots that came from anywhere but there. “This is what we’re dealing with right now.”

He said at least two of his coworkers, like him, ended up in the hospital on an IV with stomach issues. Another two gutted it out at home with similar but slightly less severe symptoms, he said.

The Boston Public Health Commission declined to comment on any illnesses, saying it doesn’t release information about employees’ health. The BPHC didn’t comment further on any diseases down on the Mile other than to stress that they’re taking COVID precautions for their workers.

The BPHC’s engagement center is effectively a large tent out behind a homeless shelter in the heart of the open-air drug market in the South End known as Mass and Cass or Methadone Mile. The center is meant to provide a controlled space away from the surrounding chaos, a place where the people living on the streets in the dangerous and dirty area can come for some peace and safety. The workers, like the one who got sick, are largely responsible for making sure people behave — no weapons, no violence, no shooting up.

The worker stressed the rat problem there — “big as dogs” — and said he’d recently seen a clearly diseased rat with sores walking over people on the ground, while rats usually run away from humans.

The bosses of the worker’s union, SEIU 888, backed him up, saying the same about the workers hospitalized and the conditions there.

“We’re in a situation where the place is so unhealthy that even the rodents are getting sick,” business manager Neal O’Brien told the Herald. “That’s an indicator of what’s going on down there.”

And SEIU 888 President Tom McKeever seconded that, saying, “For our members, it’s hell on earth. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for the folks on the street.”

The BPHC said in a statement that “we take the health and safety of our staff seriously.” They said masks and gloves are available, and that the commission has created a new “Employee Safety Officer” position. They also said they have “integrated pest management services” to do battle against the rats.

Sue Sullivan of the Newmarket Business Association, who puts together an ad-hoc cleaning crew every couple of days, said she pays a handful of the people living on the street to pick up trash and otherwise spruce up the area — and she said that some of them are in consideration for cleaning jobs because of it.

She noted the “huge proliferation of rodents,” especially following the boom in tents, and said, “It is amazing that more people haven’t become sick.”

There’s the obviously unsanitary occurrences, like people pooping in public and food rotting on the sidewalks after being dropped off by the armies of do-gooders who show up periodically. And then there’s the just plain weird, like the rooster that had to be taken out of someone’s tent the other day.

“I thought I had seen everything,” she said, “but I hadn’t.”

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Board votes to close six St. Paul schools over two years, moving 2,040 students

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Board votes to close six St. Paul schools over two years, moving 2,040 students

The St. Paul school board voted Wednesday night to close five schools next fall and a sixth in 2023, displacing around 2,040 students in an effort to create larger and more “well-rounded” schools with greater appeal to parents.

“This is our chance to build a strong foundation,” board member Jessica Kopp said.

The consolidation is one-third smaller than what Superintendent Joe Gothard and his administration called for in October. It was apparent at a meeting Monday that most board members weren’t going to support the larger plan in the face of vocal opposition from three school communities in particular.

Those schools, LEAP High and Wellstone and Highwood Hills elementary schools, were spared from closure in the 5-2 vote Wednesday.

“I’m not proud of this vote,” said Yusef Carrillo, a short-term board member in his final meeting, who opposed the consolidation when it included his family’s school, Wellstone, but voted in favor of the modified plan Wednesday. “I know deep down that future compositions of the board will be hesitant to pick this up again and will have to pick up a worse version of this.”

The consolidation is a response to persistent enrollment declines — due largely to increased charter competition — that have only accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic. The St. Paul district is down 3,500 students in the last three years — nearly 10 percent of its K-12 enrollment. The trend figures to continue in the coming years because of low birth rates in the city.

Gothard hoped he could turn things around by forming larger elementary schools, each with enough revenue to hire teacher specialists in the arts, social studies and gifted education, as well as a counselor, social worker and nurse.

Opposing the plan were John Brodrick and Zuki Ellis, both of whom also voted against a two-school merger in 2016. Brodrick said he expected opposition from families affected by the closures, but he heard broad complaints about the behind-the-scenes administrative process that produced the recommendations.

“We can never expect to halt declining enrollment until we restore trust,” he said.

FIVE TO CLOSE IN 2022

The schools that will close next fall are:

  • Galtier Elementary, whose 207 students are to merge with nearby Hamline as Galtier becomes an early learning hub.
  • Jackson Elementary, with 268 students. Some students would go to Maxfield, while those in the Hmong Dual Language Immersion program would merge at Phalen Lake.
  • Parkway Montessori Middle School, with 188 students. It would reopen immediately as the middle school for Phalen Lake’s Hmong studies students.
  • John A. Johnson Elementary, whose 258 students would merge at Bruce Vento and get a new building on the east half of the Vento property in the coming years.
  • L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion’s lower campus, sending its 150 students in grades pre-K-1 to the upper campus; the lower campus would become an early learning hub.

MONTESSORI MOVING, SPANISH ISN’T

The board also approved several entangled moves involving the fall 2023 closure of Obama Elementary, which has 250 students but a capacity of 875.

First, 173 students from Cherokee Heights Montessori would merge at JJ Hill’s Montessori program next year. Following a renovation, JJ Hill would close and move its students to Obama in either 2024 or 2025.

Also next fall, Cherokee Heights would become a community school, taking on 139 students from Riverview, the other West Side school.

However, breaking with Gothard’s recommendation, the district isn’t moving any new students into the West Side — leaving those campuses with 383 students divided across two buildings with a combined capacity of 1,120.

Riverview will continue to operate its two-way Spanish-English immersion program. But it will not take on immersion students from Wellstone.

Instead, Wellstone will remain open, keeping its 253-student Spanish-English immersion program and its 275 students on the BioSmart science side.

Board members balked at Gothard’s call to split up Wellstone, which already has a healthy enough enrollment to offer a well-rounded education.

SMALL SCHOOLS

LEAP High School, another program the school board saved, has 125 students, all recent immigrants. Gothard wanted to move them to existing language academies inside comprehensive high schools, but community members said students feel safer in their own alternative school.

In Highwood Hills, the school board saved a school with a capacity of 599 but just 196 enrolled — well short of what’s needed to have two classes per grade. Gothard’s administration had suggested closing the school and then working with nearby Somali-American families to create a more appealing school, but board members were not convinced.

The district today has roughly 16,000 students in elementary grades and room for around 8,000 more. The scaled-back consolidation will shrink elementary capacity by 2,100 — compared to about 3,800 in Gothard’s proposal.

TWO VOTES

Before the final vote on Wednesday, board member Jim Vue and Brodrick supported a failed motion to leave every school open in 2022.

Just before the meeting, Vue said, “My son came home from school and … said, ‘Dad, don’t close my school.’ I finally realized that I hadn’t really grappled with that I was closing his school.”

Board member Chauntyll Allen said she’s not looking forward to closing schools, but “I do know that we need to make some drastic changes. … Not closing right now could be detrimental to moving forward.”

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Twins sign Dylan Bundy; have plenty of work left to do after lockout

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Twins sign Dylan Bundy; have plenty of work left to do after lockout

Three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is now a Met. Reigning American League Cy Young winner Robbie Ray will call Seattle home for the next five years. All-Star left-hander Kevin Gausman is going north of the border to Toronto.

Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, two of the top infielders on the market, both landed mega-deals with the Texas Rangers, and Javier Báez wound up with division-rival Detroit Tigers.

Many of the premier free agents have flown off the board in recent days in anticipation of a lockout. A flurry of activity marked the period of time ahead of the sport’s first work stoppage since the players’ strike of 1994-95.

The Twins made a move Wednesday, too, agreeing to a one-year, $4 million deal with starting pitcher Dylan Bundy. Bundy’s deal comes with a club option for $11 million in 2023 and a $1 million buyout. Minnesota’s seven-year, $100 million contract extension with center fielder Byron Buxton was also made official Wednesday.

And now, all will be quiet.

At 10:59 Wednesday night, the sport’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expired, with recent negotiations between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association failing to produce a deal.

Rosters are set until the lockout ends, transactions frozen for the foreseeable future. So, what shape is the Twins’ roster in at the moment?

Extending Buxton was a major offseason objective, and the Twins have now accomplished that. But aside from that, the Twins still have needs that must be addressed before spring training begins.

Bundy became the first free agent addition to the Twins’ rotation this offseason. The right-hander, who was selected No. 4 overall by the Orioles in the 2011 draft, has a career 4.72 earned-run average. With the Angels last season, he was 2-9 with a 6.06 ERA in 23 games, including 19 starts.

Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said the club had targeted Bundy as a trade candidate in the past.

“He dealt with some injuries towards the end of this year which I think caught up to him a little bit, but we feel like with a full offseason and a good plan going into spring training, this is a guy we think has real bounce-back ability, and (he’s) a guy we’ve always liked,” Falvey said.

While the free agent pitching market has been especially active and the Twins have been engaging in discussions, Falvey said they’ve looked at the trade market “maybe more so” than at free agents, having conversations with other teams about potential fits to bolster their rotation.

Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan, both rookies last season, figure to be in the rotation. But plenty of question marks remain.

“It’s always hard to find quality pitching and enough depth there,” Falvey said. “I think that’s going to be a big part of the rest of our offseason, continuing to find ways to add to it, both at the minor league level and at the major league level, the non-roster level and all of the above, to try and get as much depth as possible to help us through a season.”

The Twins remain in need of an answer at shortstop. Andrelton Simmons is a free agent. Top prospect Royce Lewis isn’t ready to assume the mantle yet. The Twins weren’t expected to be players at the top of a very strong shortstop market, but it’s still a position that will need to be addressed.

Buxton and Bundy aside, the only other moves the front office has made thus far have been minor. The Twins declined their mutual option on relief pitcher Alexander Colomé. They cut ties with pitchers John Gant, Danny Coulombe and Juan Minaya and utility player Willians Astudillo, among others. Outfielder Jake Cave was outrighted to St. Paul.

Roster subtractions have been happening since October. Roster additions will need to happen after the lockout ends. And when that time comes, whenever it might be, there’s still plenty left for the front office to accomplish.

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More St. Louis-area schools may get rid of their mask mandates

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More St. Louis-area schools may get rid of their mask mandates

ST. LOUIS — A ruling from a judge in Jefferson City could lead more St. Louis-area school districts to end their mask mandates.

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled last week that Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services regulations empowering local, unelected, health officials to impose sweeping orders like quarantines, mask mandates, and shutdowns, are unconstitutional.

“Missouri statutes give elected legislative bodies, not individual health agency directors, authority to create county-wide laws related to communicable diseases,” Green wrote.

The ruling has reignited the fiery debate about mask mandates in St. Louis County.

Area school officials are now scrambling to decipher the impact on their schools.

The superintendents of schools in the Rockwood and Parkway Districts have sent letters to parents this week saying, “No changes for now”.

Still, the letters say the ruling may impact the districts’ COVID-19 health and safety protocols, which have included quarantines and masking for much of the pandemic.

A group of 60 area superintendents that has held weekly “virtual” meetings throughout most of the pandemic has met twice this week in the wake of the ruling.

They have not released any details on potential changes being discussed.

At the beginning of the current school year, Ft. Zumwalt Schools in St. Charles County made masks optional for the district’s 17,000 students. Under the new policy, if three or more students in a class are COVID-positive, then there’s a mask mandate for that class. If more than 4% of students at any school are positive, the mask mandate becomes school-wide but not district-wide.

“We’re doing it by building,” said Supt. Dr. Bernie DuBray. “We have one building with 23 cases and one building with 11 cases. Then, throughout the rest of school district we have just less than 1% in any of the buildings. So, why would you mask up your whole school district for something that just needs to be dealt with by building?”

The district’s positivity rate is currently .006.

“I think there are districts that are watching and seeing how our numbers are going. In terms of the whole district, numbers are pretty stable. I think if people see that the numbers stay stable they make look more at our plan,” DuBray said.

None of the district’s 27 schools currently has a mask mandate.

Any changes in mask policies for other St. Louis area districts would likely take effect after the new year.

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