MALDEN – Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley announced today he will require all school districts in the Commonwealth to provide high school students with full-time, in-person learning by May 17, 2021.
In March, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education gave Commissioner Riley the authority to decide when remote and hybrid learning models no longer count toward required Student Learning Time regulations.
The Commissioner has utilized a phased-in approach to bring schools back fully in-person, which began with elementary schools on April 5 and middle schools on April 28. All high schools must return fully in-person by May 17 unless the district receives a waiver from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Waivers will be considered only in a limited set of circumstances, and any district that does not receive a waiver will be required to make up any missed structured learning time.
Districts and schools should make every effort to have high school students with significant and complex disabilities or high school students who are English learners return to full-time, in-person learning prior to the deadline.
Schools and districts are now required to include a daily visual “live check-in” to support students whose families have selected remote instruction. Under DESE’s remote learning regulations, students are required to have opportunities for interaction with a teacher each school day. The daily live check-in provides the district with key information about student engagement and well-being. Parents and guardians may continue to choose remote learning for their children for the remainder of this school year.
As COVID-19 health metrics continue to improve, many districts have already started to bring more students back into classrooms full time. Currently, there are 146 school districts already fully in-person in grades K-12. By May 17, a total of 198 school districts plan to be back fully in-person in grades K-12, representing two-thirds of all high schools in the Commonwealth.
Through ongoing collaboration with the medical community and public health officials, districts and schools have worked hard to keep students and staff safe since school reopened in September. Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to launch statewide pooled testing available to all students, teachers and staff. More than 323,000 students and 85,000 teachers and staff have the option to receive weekly COVID-19 tests. Data collected from the pooled testing found low positivity rates – far less than 1 percent – among students and staff. The testing program, funded entirely by the Commonwealth and available to every Massachusetts public school at no cost, was extended through the end of the school year.
“With the robust mitigation strategies schools have put in place and all the scientific data around schools’ safety, it is time to begin the process of returning all K-12 students to classrooms. By bringing high school students back now, we will be in a stronger position to start school in the fall,” said Education Secretary James Peyser. “As we have stated repeatedly during this school year, there is no substitute for in-person learning, particularly for students with disabilities and English learners.”
“Every day a child is in a classroom is crucial. In addition to academic instruction and support, we know when students are in school, they have the opportunity to learn important social and emotional skills and have access to healthy meals as well as mental health and other support services,” said Commissioner Riley.
As of April 19, all individuals who are 16 years old or older are eligible to schedule appointments to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and all educators and school staff have been eligible to be vaccinated since March 11, 2021, with dedicated days at mass vaccination locations. All eligible individuals are strongly encouraged to receive the vaccine to provide additional confidence in returning to the classroom.