By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has unveiled a timeline for schools to return to five days a week of in-person classes.
On March 5, the board adopted amendments to the Student Learning Time regulations on an emergency basis. This provides Commissioner of Education Jeff Riley with the authority to determine when hybrid and remote models will no longer count toward meeting the required student learning time hours. Schools will be required to shift learning models to a full-time, in-person learning model.
Consistent with those amendments, and after consulting with medical experts and state health officials, Riley announced the new deadlines on Tuesday, March 9, listed in the commisioner’s weekly update.
Elementary schools will be the first to return to five days a week of in-person schooling, with a deadline of April 5. Classes in graded six through eight will make this shift effective April 28. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will announce the details of the high school phase of the plan in April. Districts will be given at least two weeks’ notice of the date for high school students.
A return to full in-person learning in April is something that North Attleborough Schools have been preparing for. Beginning the week of March 8, grade levels were moved to a four-day in-person learning method, starting with kindergarten and ending the week of March 25 with grades 1-5. Superintendent Scott Holcomb has previously stated that he intends to meet an April 5 deadline of five-day learning.
The structure established for remote learning will remain in place moving forward. If a child needs to learn remotely due to illness those hours would be counted.
“What that does, if we don’t meet this, it has the potential of withholding of state funds until those hours are made up,” said Holcomb at a previous School Committee meeting.
In preparation for reopening schools in the fall of 2020, DESE released its initial guidance last June. This established a set of strategies to protect against COVID-19 transmission in schools, including masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, symptom screening, and contact tracing.
“Our expectation was that based on the evolving science and depending on the trajectory of the virus, schools would likely need to pivot among the models,” the department wrote in its report on in-person learning.
Since June 2020, DESE guidance has noted that three feet in classrooms is a safe standard for physical distancing when masks are worn and other mitigation strategies are in place, based on guidelines from the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“In addition, a return to in-person school this spring will lay the groundwork for a full-time, in-person return for all grade levels in fall 2021, likely with some continued mitigation measures,” stated the report. “In the fall, DESE will no longer require districts and schools to provide a district-wide remote learning option. Districts should work individually with parents/guardians of students who cannot school in person in the fall due to a medical condition.”