The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education released new guidance Tuesday as schools across the state prepare to return to in-person learning next month.
A memo from Elementary and Secondary Commissioner Jeffrey Riley lays out a timeline for when Massachusetts schools will be required to return to full-time, classroom learning, setting the expectation that middle and elementary schoolers will be back in classrooms in April.
The guidance, which includes a timeline on when different grade levels will return, is as follows:
- Elementary school phase (grades K-5): For elementary schools, hybrid and remote learning models will no longer count towards meeting the required student learning time hours as of Monday, April 5, 2021. As a result, districts and schools are required to shift their learning model for elementary school grade levels to full-time, in-person instruction five days per week effective Monday, April 5, 2021.
- Middle school phase (grades 6-8): For middle schools, hybrid and remote learning models will no longer count towards meeting the required student learning time hours as of Wednesday, April 28, 2021. As a result, districts and schools will be required to shift their learning model for middle school grade levels to full-time, in-person instruction five days per week, effective Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
- High school phase (grades 9-12): State education officials said they will announce the details and timing of the high school phase of the plan in April. Districts will be provided with at least two weeks in advance of the date for high school students to return to full-time, in-person instruction, but should start making such plans now.
School districts will still be required to provide a remote option for parents who choose to keep their kids remote through the end of this school year, state education officials said. There will also be waivers available on a case-by-case basis to help school districts that are just starting to go back to hybrid to ease into the full in-person model.
In announcing the dates, Riley is exercising a new authority granted to him by an 8-3 vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday.
The board signed off on allowing Riley to determine when partial and full-time remote learning models would no longer count toward student learning time requirements.
As of Feb. 12, nearly 80% of Massachusetts school districts were providing at least some in-person instruction to students through either fully in-person or hybrid learning models, and many districts have been making moves on their own to repopulate their classrooms.
Critics of the state's move to require full-time, in-person schooling have said that such decisions are best made at the local level, where district officials have more information about things like how many students can safely fit in a particular classroom.
Baker administration officials have said that the timing is right because vaccination is underway, COVID-19 public health metrics have shown improvement, and more is now known about mitigation measures and the impacts of remote learning. K-12 and early educators on Thursday will be eligible to book appointments at state vaccination sites.
State House News Service contributed to this report.