STATE RELEASES GUIDELINES FOR REOPENING SCHOOLS
Jeffery C. Riley, Massachusetts Commissioner for Elementary and Secondary Education released the State’s reopening guidelines in a memo to school leaders on June 25. The guidelines were developed by the State’s Return-To School 45-member working group, which included infectious disease physicians, pediatricians, public health officials, public safety officials, school leaders, parents, and teachers.
The guidelines have already come under sharp criticism from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, from parents, teachers, and public officials and from a number of local media outlets (e.g. see here), for being impractical and unsafe.
The complete 28-page memo can be found here.
Goals in General
The stated goal of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) 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.” In developing these guidelines DESE sought to balance the “risks associated with COVID-19 for in-person school programs, with the known challenges and consequences of keeping students out of school. While remote learning has improved over the course of the school closures, there is no substitute for in-person instruction when it comes to the quality of students’ academic learning. In-person school plays an equally important role in our ability to support students’ social-emotional needs, including their mental and physical health, and in mitigating the impacts of trauma.”
Required Reopening Plans
Each district must prepare a fall reopening plan by early August.
Each district and school will need to plan for three possibilities:
1. In-person learning with new safety requirements: get as many students as possible back into schools for in-person learning—safely. In this model, all students return in person to school settings that are appropriately modified to accommodate the health and safety requirements outlined above. Examples of modifications could include altered classroom configurations, setting up additional learning spaces, and schedule changes.
2. Hybrid learning: In addition, all districts/schools must create a plan for a hybrid model in the event they are unable to bring all students back to school under the health and safety requirements despite their best efforts, or in case of COVID-19 related circumstances. A hybrid model means that students would alternate between in-person and remote learning. For instance, students could switch between in-person and remote learning on alternating weeks or days of the week.
3. Remote learning: All districts and schools are required to have a plan for operating a remote learning program. This model must be available for individual students who cannot yet return in-person, and for all students in the event of future classroom or school closures.
The DESE argues that while there is some risk in returning to in-person education, they judge those to be comparatively low, based on reporting o medical experts who say that schools do not appear to have played a major role in COVID-19 transmission and that younger children are less likely than adults to be infected and may be less likely to transmit the virus if they are infected.
Health and Safety Requirements
- required face masks covering the nose and mouth for students grade 2 and above and for all educators and staff
- mask breaks spaced throughout the day with students spaced 6 feet apart
- families must provide their own masks but the school should maintain a supply of disposable masks to accommodate students who cannot provide their own
- masks required on school transportation
- transparent face coverings are recommended – especially for younger students and for special needs teachers (for whom facial cues are important)
- Schools should endeavor to maintain physical distancing among all students and personnel of six feet when feasible and three feet at minimum. Desks should also be spaced at these intervals.
- Larger spaces, e.g. auditoriums and cafeterias, should be repurposed when possible in support of distancing efforts.
- Schools should endeavor to keep students together in the same groups/cohorts throughout the day, with smaller cohort sizes preferred.
- There are no required maximum or minimum sizes for cohort groups, classrooms, or other groups.
- Screening for illness is primarily the responsibility of families and caregivers.
- Screening for entry to school is not required.
- Temperature checks are not recommended.
- Hand washing should be required upon entering the building, before eating, before putting on and taking off masks, and before dismissal, following established procedures for proper hand washing.
- When washing is not feasible, hand sanitizer can be substituted.
- Schools are required to designate a COVID-19 isolation space that is separate from the nurse’s office or wherever routine medical care is provided.
- In-school testing is not recommended at this time.
- Schools should maintain a reasonable supply of masks and gloves.