What Parents Need to Know About Massachusetts' Return-to-School Guidelines

Here's a breakdown of what is expected of parents and guardians when schools reopen this fall, per state guidelines

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Parents will play a "critical role," when students go back to school this fall, according to guidelines released by the state, which set expectations for coronavirus safety at home.

Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley urged parents to play their part to "mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19 for in-person school programs and prevent the significant consequences of keeping students out of school and isolated," in a memo released Thursday.

In a call for a "new culture of health and safety," per the guidelines, families play a "critical role." Parents will ultimately decide whether their children will attend in-person classes or continue with remote learning.

5 Roles of Families:

At-home screenings: Temperatures should be taken and symptom checks should be conducted at home every day before heading to school, the memo says. The guidance instructs districts to educate families on how to conduct screenings properly and to emphasize that students should stay home if they're not feeling well. The state will create a symptom checklist for districts to distribute.

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If children come in close contact with someone who has coronavirus, show any symptoms or aren't feeling well, parents are urged to keep kids home from school.

Masks: Students will be expected to bring masks from home whenever possible, but schools are encouraged to have personal protective equipment on-hand in case there is a need. Masks should be washed by families daily, according to the guidance. Parents are being asked to encourage their children to wear masks on the bus and arrange alternate transportation whenever possible.

Testing: At this point, the state is not recommending that school districts provide testing, so families are urged to discuss testing with their health care providers.

Vaccines: Parents will be expected to make sure their children are up to date on all standard vaccinations before going back to school, including the flu shot.

While evidence suggests that children are less likely to be infected with and transmit coronavirus to others, according to medical literature referenced in the memo, they frequently spread the flu. The seasonal shot is an "extremely high priority," according to the guidelines. Updated guidelines for schools and parents about vaccines are forthcoming from the Department of Public Health.

Pick-up: If a child shows coronavirus symptoms while at school, they will stay in a designated an isolated space, separate from the nurse’s office, until they can be picked up by a family member.

Massachusetts is giving a clearer idea of what school might look like in the fall.

Reactions from Parents, Experts and Educators

An infectious disease doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital said that families will play an important role in the transition to in-person classes and noted that children are less likely to be infected.

“I think there are a lot of good things about the plan and then there are some things we need more information," Dr. Robbie Goldstein said. "We need more data.”

Parents are torn over the guidelines.

"Not sure what's going to happen, but I struggle with the remote learning. But I get it, I get that we have to be safe and keep the children safe," said Deb McDonald, a parent from Oxford whose son hopes to go to Bay Path University in the fall.

"They couldn't keep it on walking through the store," Charles Fegreus said of children wearing masks. His son is going into seventh grade at Sullivan Middle School in Worcester.

Educators also expressed mixed feelings Thursday.

"As a teacher, it is overwhelming," said Crystal Collier, a resource teacher at Blackstone Elementary School in Boston. "I miss my students, we want to be with them."

Collier says while she's not looking forward to teaching in a mask, or preparing both in-class and online lessons, she appreciates the state's push to get them back into the classrooms.

"We as teachers now have to develop some new skills and new techniques to still keep thing interactive, but also to keep kids safe," said Collier.

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