State unveils school reopening plans

  • Paul Diemand, top, a cafeteria assistant at Leeds School, and JFK Middle School cook Kristin Thibedau direct the first of four school buses to the dock at the Northampton middle school on Thursday, April 30, 2020. The buses were picking up meals to deliver to four sites around the city for the twice-weekly distributions to school-aged children. Friday, May 1, is School Lunch Hero Day. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Associated Press
Published: 6/25/2020 3:42:31 PM

BOSTON — Face masks and physical distancing are some of the changes students will find when they return to the classroom in September under a plan unveiled Thursday by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education.

State education officials say schools should be prepared for three different education models: in-person learning in school classrooms; hybrid learning combining both in-person learning and remote learning; and education that take place entirely remotely in the event of another spike in the coronavirus. By August, districts will be required to submit comprehensive fall reopening plans that include all three models.

Schools will not be required to conduct temperature checks under the plan. Gov. Charlie Baker and state health officials said with children, there are too many false positives and false negatives to make the checks worthwhile.

Schools would be encouraged to maintain a 6-foot separation between students when possible, but when not possible, schools would be allowed to maintain at least a 3-foot separation. The plan also calls on schools to create safe times and spaces during the day for students to temporarily remove their masks.

Elementary schools would aim to keep students in the same group throughout the day, with middle and high schools encouraged to minimize mixing student groups. Schools are also expected to have an inventory of health care supplies like masks and gloves.

If a student shows COVID-19 symptoms during the school day they would be moved to a specific room designated for medical isolation until they can be picked up by a family member. The room must be separate from the nurse’s office or other spaces where routine medical care is provided.

“This plan will allow schools to responsibly do what is best for students — bring them back to school to learn,” Baker said at a press conference to unveil the plan.

School buildings were shuttered across the state on March 17 as the coronavirus began spreading through Massachusetts. Initially, the closures were set to last three weeks, but were later extended through the end of the academic year as COVID-19 cases soared.

Baker also announced $200 million from the state’s federal Coronavirus Relief Fund for costs related to reopening public schools.

Baker said schools are eligible for up to $225 per student for eligible costs incurred due to the pandemic public health emergency, such as training for school staff, reconfiguration of school spaces, leasing of temporary facilities, and health and hygiene supplies.

Baker said the reopening plan was built on a review of medical and scientific literature and developed in consultation with medical professionals.

Beth Kontos, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said the plan may work well in wealthier suburbs, but not so well in other districts.

“This guidance doesn’t adequately reckon with the realities, or the added costs, of reopening schools in the communities we represent,” the union president said in a statement.

The state is still working on plans for transportation and school sports.

Unemployment insurance

Massachusetts surpassed 1 million initial claims filed for regular unemployment benefits since the start of the pandemic.

More than 29,500 people filed initial claims for standard unemployment from June 14 to June 20 — a decrease of about 440 compared to the previous week.

Initial claims for a separate program — pandemic unemployment assistance — also saw a decline.

About 14,100 people filed initial claims for the assistance for the week ending June 20 — about 1,700 fewer than the previous week, marking the fourth week of declining new claims.

Since April 20, more than 624,00 individuals have filed initial claims for the pandemic insurance.

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