More than two-thirds of the Massachusetts school districts that have so far reported their reopening plans to the state envision some sort of in-classroom education, while the others are poised to resume remote learning, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday.
Baker said 371 of the 400 districts had submitted their plans as of Monday, and 70 percent involved either a full return to in-person classes or a hybrid of remote and in-person learning. He said 30 percent were pursuing a fully remote model.
The governor has raised concerns about the difficulty of students getting to know their teachers and learning to read over digital platforms and said that communities where public health metrics show lower risks of COVID-19 transmission should feel comfortable reopening their school buildings for at least some classes.
“We’re encouraged that nearly three-quarters of the school districts are planning for at least a partial in-person learning experience for kids. Students have been away from their classrooms and their teachers and peers since March,” Baker said. “Since then we’ve learned a tremendous amount about COVID and have put together guidelines to allow for a productive and safe learning environment that adapts to the challenges that come with COVID-19.”
A more detailed breakdown provided by an Executive Office of Education spokesperson shows that hybrid models are the most popular choice, and that the decisions vary by grade level.
None of the 371 districts plan for fully in-person classes at the high school level, where 66 percent are planning to use a hybrid model and 34 percent plan on full remote learning, according to the administration’s data. At the middle school level, 2 percent are opting for fully in-person, 62 percent for hybrid and 36 percent fully remote. Among elementary schools, it’s 10 percent fully in-person, 63 percent hybrid and 27 percent fully remote.
Among districts that describe their models as hybrid, the specifics also vary.
The Norfolk Public Schools, for example, are dividing students in grades one through six into two cohorts, with one physically reporting to school on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays, while learning remotely the other days.
The Amherst-Pelham Regional School District‘s hybrid plan makes in-person education available as a choice for students in pre-kindergarten through first grade while older students are remote, with in-person schooling slated to expand in phases if certain public health benchmarks are met.
“Generally speaking in Massachusetts, the rules of the road around education, historically, have been state sets standards, locals decide what the best way to execute on state standards will be for their community,” Baker said. “And part of the reason for why we’ve done it that way, historically, has been because we have 351 and cities and towns, and many of them have different needs and different requirements and different ways of doing things.”
State education officials directed local school districts to prepare a final reopening plan that included remote, in-person and hybrid models, and to prioritize their chosen approach.
Baker said that part of why the state asked for plans for all three models was “because we thought over the course of the year, you might need more than one” as local public health situations change.
Teachers unions have been calling for all schools to start their year remotely and wait to phase-in a physical return until certain safety standards are met. On Wednesday, members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts and the Boston Teachers Union plan a suite of socially distanced rallies to make their case, including one at the State House at 3 p.m.
Baker suggested more news about schools and COVID-19 could come in the next few days.
After the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs last week published guidelines laying out new ground rules for youth and adult amateur sports, Baker said he believed “there’ll be guidance put out for after-school sports probably sometime later this week.”
He also said administration officials will “have more to say on school testing hopefully later this week.”
(Copyright (c) 2022 State House News Service.