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Mass. Education Leaders Release Roadmap For Reopening Schools

A classroom in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Mint Images via Getty Images)
A classroom in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Mint Images via Getty Images)

State education leaders released new guidance about how schools could reopen this fall.

Teachers and students as young as second grade will be required to wear a face mask. And desks must be spaced at least three feet apart. Schools are also being encouraged to keep students with the same group throughout the day, meaning activities like lunch will likely take place in individual classrooms next year. Districts will not be required to provide each child a face mask, however they are encouraged to have extras on hand in case a student comes to school without one.

“Our goal for the fall is to safely bring back as many students as possible to in-person school settings, to maximize learning and address our students’ holistic needs,” said Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeff Riley in a memo attached to the guidance.

The guidelines in the document are mostly voluntary. State officials wanted to give superintendents flexibility to implement policies that fit their unique circumstance.

The document stopped short of instituting one of the more controversial requirements: classroom occupancy limits. That parts from the current policy in place for summer school that limits class sizes to no more than 10 students. State education leaders are also not going to require daily temperature checks due to the high likelihood of a false positive.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recommends that school leaders prepare for three potential scenarios in the fall: returning to 100% in-person instruction, a hybrid model that includes some remote instruction, and 100% remote instruction.

The reopening guidelines also did not weigh in on specific dates for when schools can begin in-person instruction. Regulations around busing and transportation are expected later this summer.

The recommendations were developed over the last two months using input from about 50 education stakeholders as part of the “Return To School Working Group.”

One member of the working group, incoming president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Lloyd Fisher, said at a press conference with Gov. Baker on Thursday that the reopening guidelines “appropriately take into consideration the many complexities involved in reopening, and outline the precautions necessary to maximize benefit to children while minimizing risk to them and those they interact with.”

Fisher added that the decision to reopen schools was made with students’ mental and emotional health in mind.

“While for most children COVID-19 has not had the devastating and life-threatening physical health effects that have occurred in adults, the negative impact on their education, mental health and social development has been substantial,” he said. “Nothing can take the place of the daily face-to-face interaction our children experience when attending school in person.”

Raquel Quezada, a Massachusetts parent with a child who has cerebral palsy, also spoke at the press conference. She said that remote learning has been challenging for all parents, but especially for those who also work full-time and — in particular — for those with children who have special needs, who often receive specialized care and education at school.

“Life is not about fear,” Quezada said. “Children need to get their lives back, and parents too.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 WBUR

Carrie began reporting from New Mexico in 2011, following environmental news, education and Native American issues. She’s worked with NPR’s Morning Edition, PRI’s The World, National Native News, and The Takeaway.
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