The state’s Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance released Thursday requires students in grades two and above to wear masks or face coverings and encourages it for children in kindergarten and first-grade. The same goes for educators and staff. Masks breaks should occur throughout the day when students can safely be six feet apart — ideally outside.
Read the Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance.
The guidelines also call for desks to be spaced 6 feet apart when possible — at least no fewer than 3 feet apart — and suggests using cafeterias, libraries or auditoriums for extra space if needed. Nurses and staff supporting students with disabilities in close proximity should wear eye protection, such as goggles or a face shield, as well as masks.
The new rules don’t, however, place a cap on classroom sizes — relying instead on physical distancing to limit the number of students in a room at the same time — a change from the limit of 10 students per room in the state’s guidelines for summer programs. The state now recommends dividing students into cohorts that travel with each other throughout the day to minimize transmission.
State education leaders make it clear they want “as many students as possible” back in classrooms for in-person learning this fall — an idea being pushed by at least one parent group — saying research shows schools “do not appear to have played a major role in COVID-19 transmission” and citing lower infection rates among children.
“We want to start the school year with as many of our students as possible returning to in-person settings — safely,” Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley wrote in a letter accompanying the plan. “If the current positive public health metrics hold, we believe that when we follow critical health requirements, we can safely return to in-person school this fall with plans in place to protect all members of our educational community.”
Riley and Gov. Charlie Baker are expected to address the plan during a noon press conference Thursday.
Families are asked to screen their children from symptoms each morning before sending them to school. Temperature checks at school are not recommended — neither is in-school COVID-19 testing — but plenty of hand hygiene is. Lunch will be eaten in classrooms.
Districts are being told to prepare for three types of learning: in-person, but with new safety requirements; a hybrid of in-person and remote learning; or staying entirely virtual. Hybrid models should prioritize in-person learning for high-needs students and those who don’t have internet access at home. Plans are to be submitted to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in August, but an exact reopening date is unclear.
The new guidelines, developed by a working group parents, educators, administrators, state officials and medical experts, have already received support from the Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said in a letter the new rules “appropriately take into consideration the many complexities of a return to school in the fall.”