UPDATE (8/21/2020): Rapid Response School COVID Testing Program
As we prepare for the start of the school year, the state is providing a rapid-response COVID-19 testing program that will be available for all Massachusetts school districts in the case of an outbreak. The mobile program will be available for K-12 schools across the state.
Also, Governor Baker believes its safe for many towns to go back and should because of the developmental gaps that would continue if students continued remotely. Three models were established for the fall because we can anticipate districts changing between them during the course of the year with updated public health metrics.
The Flu vaccine required for all students in Massachusetts schools, in an effort to clear up space for COVID-19 patients, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided.
For more information, visit http://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/
Reopening Schools and Child Care Programs
I have received many of your calls and emails with questions and concerns for students entering the school year this fall, and for younger children who need to return to child care. Many of you have expressed a concern, not only for your child’s educational development, but also for their social development and overall well-being. These issues clearly are of pressing importance for families in my district, and I will seek to be helpful in any way possible. As a consequence, I have been in regular communication with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) to ensure my constituents’ concerns are heard. Obviously, these are unprecedented times and the set of decisions in front of policymakers are daunting.
Last Thursday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released new guidance for schools for the upcoming year. First and foremost, the goal articulated by DESE is “the safe return of as many students as possible to in-person school settings.” The guidance then states that “if the current positive public health metrics hold, we believe that by following critical health requirements, we can safely return to in-person school.” The DESE guidance requires school districts to create plans to maximize safety and address students’ needs. School districts and individual schools around the Commonwealth will take these recommendations and must create three different reopening plans for their students. These plans will consist of new safety requirements and are: 1) a hybrid model, with a mix of in-person and remote learning, 2) all in-person learning, or 3) remote learning during the upcoming school year. Also, schools will need to have a plan for how special student populations will learn under each of these three categories. School districts are required to submit these plans for review by DESE in August. A couple of other things to remember: A) this is an iterative process and DESE will be issuing additional guidance; and B) as we all learned, the Governor has extraordinary powers in a public health emergency and can override all local decision-makers if the public health situation deteriorates due to a second wave or other backsliding. Please visit this link for more information on the regulations and updates from DESE.
As for child care, guidance and requirements have been released which encompass child care and summer programs for children, like camps. The new guidance is focused primarily on protecting the health and safety of children and child care staff. Programs are required to come up with preparedness plans prior to reopening that must cover cleaning, detection, and handling of sick children or staff members, transportation, communication with parents, working with any vendors, administration of necessary medication, and working with state and local boards of health. EEC is ensuring that these programs will remain safe for both children and staff and will review plans submitted by child care programs. You can read about the minimum requirements for these programs here.
I will continue to work with EEC, DESE, and the local school districts to make the transition back to school this fall as safe and seamless as possible.
UPDATE 6/25/2020 – Governor Baker announced the release of the initial guidance for reopening schools in the fall. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) goal is to get students back in the classroom safely, while following comprehensive health and safety requirements. With this goal in mind, districts are being required to develop plans for three separate scenarios:
- In-school learning
- Hybrid learning (in-school/out-of-school combination)
- Remote Learning
Additionally, schools must offer remote learning for students who are unable to safely return to the classroom, or families that do not yet feel comfortable sending their children back to school.
The fall guidance includes initial health and safety protocols, with more detailed information expected soon.In-school learning will include face coverings and other PPE, physical distancing, smaller groups for student cohorts, hand washing, proper hygiene, and facilities sanitation. Federal CARES Act funding has been made available to offset some of these costs, and also announced today were two additional federal grant opportunities:
- $200M from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (districts can apply for up to $225 per student for COVID-related costs)
- $25M in federal funds with a state match to help districts close technology gaps
As you know, the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) issued guidance a few weeks ago on re-opening childcare centers. Initial re-opening requirements were released on June 1. On June 12, EEC issued amended requirements in response to feedback from the field. A redline comparing the June 12 document to the June 1 document can be found here. Changes made include a reduction in the required staff-to-child ratio from 2:10 to 1:10, and the elimination of thermometer checks as a mandatory screening criterion. Emergency child care programs will be phased out beginning in July, and programs will be able to upload their required reopening plans to the EEC database starting June 18th.
Childcare centers in the state are closed until June 29th, while emergency childcare centers have space for more children, but they do not have equal availability across the state. In addition, for business owners, the process that determined which sectors are designated for the various phases has been opaque and some of the places that will be permitted to open as soon as next week are businesses that may have difficulty fully complying with necessary standards. I have communicated my concerns to the Baker Administration as have some of my colleagues and we must carefully follow all developments.
While a difficult and disruptive decision, it was no doubt made with the best public health information in mind. And so the Governor has decided to close all public and private schools through the end of the school year and non-essential childcare programs are also closed until June 29th. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will be issuing updated remote learning guidelines soon. The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE) is deferring scheduled repayments for its No-Interest Loan Program for student loans for four months. Check the DESE website for forthcoming updates on distance learning: http://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/
and check the DHE website for information on student loan deferment: https://www.mass.edu/osfa/programs/nointerest.asp
In conjunction with the additional period of school closures, state Education Commissioner Riley provided guidance found here: http://www.doe.mass.edu/sfs/emergencyplan/covid19.html
Now is a good time for families to take advantage of the online educational resources offered to students through the Robbins (Arlington), Belmont and Cambridge public library websites.
For access, please visit:
- Robbins Public Library (Arlington) online resources
- Belmont Public Library online resources
- Cambridge Public Library online resources
For more information, click here.
Resources for Educating Children at Home:
Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Resources
Supporting Families During COVID-19 (Child Mind Institute)
How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus (New York Times)
Free tools, strategies, tips and best practices for teaching online (Learning Keeps Going)
List of Best Educational Videos, Shows, and Podcasts (Fordham Institute)
Tips for making this time more meaningful and less stressful for educators and kids (Center for Collaborative Education)
How parents can keep kids busy (and learning) in quarantine (The Atlantic)
Free online tools and classes (American Federation of Teachers)
For more information, click here.