Massachusetts state officials announced that the state is aiming to return all elementary school students to classrooms for five days a week and “eliminate remote learning” in April, numerous sources reported.
Jeffrey Riley, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), said Tuesday that he plans to ask for the authority to remove remote and hybrid learning in order to return students back to school full-time, CBSN Boston reported.
The MA Education Commissioner is going to ask the state education board for authorization to get all elementary school kids back in class, in person, in April. Middle school and high school students would be next steps.
— Jonathan Hall (@JHall7news) February 23, 2021
“At some point as metrics continue to improve we will need to take the remote and hybrid learning models off the table and return to a traditional school format,” Riley said in a DESE board meeting.
“I will be coming before this board in the next week or two ask you to authorize me to determine how best to come out of this pandemic and back to the traditional school model,” he added, according to WCVB 5.
Riley said elementary school students would be prioritized in the phased-in approach, and the middle school students and possibly high school students would follow. Parents could opt for their children to learn remotely until the end of the year, and districts that need a “more incremental approach” would be able to apply for waivers, according to CBSN Boston.
He and Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker cited the declining cases of COVID-19 in the state, along with the availability of pool testing for school districts, the vaccine rollout, and the spring weather.
“With COVID cases and hospitalizations continuing to decline and vaccines well underway, it is time to set our sights on eliminating remote learning by April, starting with elementary schools,” Baker said, according to WCVB.
The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, a union, criticized the plan to return students to classrooms in April, and accused the state of “implementing unilateral authority,” WBZ-TV reported, according to CBSN Boston.
At least one teachers union and a Boston-area mayor reacted skeptically to the state education commissioner calling for Massachusetts elementary school students to have the option of returning to in-person learning five days a week in April. https://t.co/YFMcshMywv
— Boston Globe Education (@GlobeEducation) February 23, 2021
“Vaccination of educators is not in sight. There’s no mention of ventilations need to still be fixed,” Merrie Najimy said. “To have full in-person learning contradicts the science of six feet of distancing. So what the commissioner is doing is waving a magic wand saying problems are solved, and then implementing unilateral authority and usurping the decisions of every school committee.” (RELATED: Dr. Anthony Fauci Says Vaccinating All Teachers As A Prerequisite For Reopening Schools Is A ‘Nonworkable Situation’)
Numerous teachers unions have demanded districts first vaccinate all teachers before returning students to school for in-person instruction. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that teachers do not need to be vaccinated in order for schools to reopen.
President Joe Biden’s plan aims to reopen K-8 schools for full-time instruction within the first 100 days of his presidency. On this timeframe, 100 days after Biden’s inauguration could mean schools reopening as late as Apr. 30, which is only a month or two before most schools close for summer vacation.
Although most states have no order in effect for schools, many have enacted standards that districts must meet before reopening. In the northeast U.S., some states, including Vermont and Maine, left the decision to reopen to districts while encouraging or approving of full-time in-person instruction, according to CNN. New York allows schools to remain open if the in-school positivity rate stays below the state’s 9% threshold, but decisions to open or close are made by district officials, CNN reported.