Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley discusses school re-opening plans for fall

June 26, 2020

In light of COVID-19, Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley issued a DESE (Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education) plan to help guide school districts to properly re-open their schools in a safe and efficient manner for this upcoming school year. 

In the month of March, all public and private schools were instructed to cease in-person instruction to impede the spread of the Coronavirus, but as number of cases increased, school closure extended to the end of the school year.

As Massachusetts is currently in Phase 2 of the pandemic, businesses have begun reinstatement of work under precautionary actions, and schools may be soon to follow suit. Overall, in order to educate students, Riley’s goal is to make sure as many students as possible will be able to return to their normal school environments.

“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. With the information provided in this memo, districts and schools should begin planning for a fall return that includes multiple possibilities, with a focus first and foremost on getting our students back into school buildings,” the DESE plan states.

Studies DESE uses as evidence (Photo provided by DESE)

In addition, DESE states that studies have seen that school environments do not play a profound role in COVID-19 transmission. DESE also asserts that similar studies have provided evidence that children, particularly younger children,  have lower chances of acquiring the virus and are less likely to transmit the it to others. Overall, these pieces of evidence may make the renewal of in-person education in the fall more of a reality.

“In our discussions with infectious disease physicians and other health experts, we have used both local and international data, trends, and case studies to inform our initial guidance for the fall,” the DESE report stated.

DESE’s requires schools to create plans for different types of learning settings. (Photo provided by DESE)

However, in order to prepare for either in-person or virtual learning, DESE is requiring schools to prepare three different types of learning plans: remote learning, accommodateing a mix of both distance learning and safe in-person classes, as well as in-person learning with some modifications to maintain health requirements. All schools and districts are given August as the deadline to report an extensive re-opening plan and were told to prioritize an in-person plan with new safety regulations.   

If students return to school in the fall, Massachusetts schools are required to abide by strict health guidelines in order to provide a safe environment for students.

After a careful inspection of health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), as well as medical literature on COVID-19 related to children and school settings, Riley believes schools can re-open safely if appropriate safety measures are taken.

One such requirement is a social distancing requirement, in which classrooms must be configured so that desks are placed no fewer than three feet apart from one another. In addition, schools are required to provide extra precautionary tools to school nurses and any faculty members supporting students with whom they are in close contact. 

Although students and faculty are not recommended to be screened upon entry, the Commission of Education requires all schools to have a COVID-19 isolation space, should any student or faculty member display signs of an illness. 

“The health and safety of students and staff are our top priority when making the decision to reopen schools in fall. These requirements will be modified as needed during the summer and into the fall. In addition to required practices, we have also included guidance on best practices where applicable,” the DESE stated. 

For DESE’s fall re-opening guidelines, please visit: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-Ijwzh3IYJQ3oEVzR7vwAUIMwSQtBQOf/view

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