Massachusetts Preliminary School Reopening Plans Due Friday

Summaries of back-to-school plans are due Friday in Massachusetts

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School districts must submit summaries of their preliminary reopening plans to the state Friday as Massachusetts figures out how to get students back in the classroom amid the pandemic.

Districts are required to fill out an online form with information about their reopening models and other plans by the end of the day. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education -- or DESE -- released a two-step process for schools to submit their plans earlier this month.

More complete, comprehensive plans from schools are due by Aug. 10. Those documents must be submitted to the state and released publicly.

Initial guidelines were released in June, instructing districts to submit reopening plans for three possible scenarios: A full-scale return to school, a mix of in-person and remote learning or exclusive remote learning.

"Part of the reason we asked folks to develop three plans is it’s going to be hard to tell where regions of the Commonwealth are as we head into the fall," Gov. Charlie Baker said. “Remember, some of this when it comes to COVID generally becomes a function of what we know at a particular point in time. That’s why we asked them to develop three approaches."

Baker drew up a hypothetical scenario in which a student tests positive at school, noting that the state needs to be in a position to work with communities to determine the size of potential outbreaks and have a plan in place for how to proceed.

“I think it’s going to be important that we all continue to learn and recognize and understand the answer to many of these questions is going to be developed by the real world experience we have as we go forward," Baker said.

Meanwhile, the state's largest teachers union is pushing for a remote start to the school year, citing safety concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"There will be some communities that are prepared to meet the health and safety standards and again this is based on the legacy of structural disinvestment in communities, but too many buildings do not have proper ventilation to keep us safe while we’re inside," Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said.

The unions recently negotiated a 10-day extension for school districts at the start of the year to allow educators more time to prepare plans for operating with coronavirus-safe policies in place.

State officials issued more than a dozen pages of guidelines with protocols for what schools should do in various coronavirus scenarios this fall.

A Sample of the School Guidelines

Pages of guidance have been issued by DESE in recent weeks instructing schools on how to prepare for in-person education, from providing PPE to training bus drivers on how to screen for coronavirus symptoms.

The guidance calls for students in the second grade and up -- as well as adults -- to wear masks or face coverings and maintain physical distance. Desks should be a minimum of three feet apart but ideally six feet apart.

Schools will be required to provide supplies like gloves, hand sanitizer and masks.

Other guidance calls for bus drivers to be trained on how to screen for coronavirus symptoms and turn students away if they appear sick. Steps for what to do if the student is on the bus are detailed as well.

Not everyone will be able to ride the bus to school this fall.

Instructions for what to do in other scenarios include exposure to someone with COVID, people who test positive, if a student appears to show symptoms at school and if staff are symptomatic at home or school.

Also outlined are potential school closures, multiple cases in schools, community coronavirus outbreaks and the possibility that the state regresses to a previous reopening phase.

Officials have emphasized the important role families will play in reopening schools, including conducting temperature and symptom checks at home.

A complete collection of school-related coronavirus protocols released by DESE can be found here. 

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