Education officials in Massachusetts are working on a plan to go back to a more traditional school model, focusing on elementary students in particular.
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said he would take a phased approach to that process, working with medical experts. Elementary students would be brought back first, ideally learning in person five days a week this April, Riley said, with a plan for middle and possibly high school students later this school year.
Riley on Tuesday told members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that in a week or two he planned to ask the board to authorize him to determine how best to go back to traditional schooling and break away from methods of remote and hybrid learning that have been relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re starting to see case rates come down again, about half of our schools now have pooled testing available for students and staff, the vaccine rollout is in process, warmer weather is on the horizon, we continue to see in-person instruction being delivered safely across the commonwealth,” Riley said. “It continues to be vital that we get as many students back in person as possible, preferably before the end of the year.”
Riley noted that the administration of President Joe Biden has put a focus on getting schools reopened, particularly for students in K-8.
“He stated further that for in-person learning time, the goal would be five days a week,” Riley said. “We agree with President Biden, it is time to get our kids back to school more robustly.”
While many students have at least some form of in-person learning, other districts have remained in remote education. Worcester, for example, is among remote districts but is planning to start hybrid learning next month.
“At some point, as health 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 March I’ll be asking the board to amend these regulations to give me the authority to determine when the hybrid and remote learning models no longer account for learning hours.”
Families would still have the option to learn remotely through the end of this school year, Riley said.
For districts that are still remote, there would be an option to move into a hybrid model before going to traditional education, Riley said.
Board member Matt Hills told Riley he was thrilled to hear of the proposal.
“I hope you move fairly quickly,” Hills said. “Please get it done well before the end of this year so that we’re not even talking about this issue going into the next school year.”
Jasper Coughlin, a student member of the board from Billerica, said he was grateful to hear about the plan.
“I know how important that is, especially as a student, that we get back into school as soon as possible,” Coughlin said, adding that it is important to not rush the process.
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