DESE Commissioner sends letter to 16 school districts about lack of in-person learning despite low-risk COVID-19 numbers

Massachusetts — The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Commissioner sent a letter to 16 school communities asking why they have not returned to in-person learning despite being a community categorized as low-risk by the state.

Commissioner Jefferey C. Riley called schools in low-risk communities not going back to in-person learning “misaligned.”

The letter, sent by Commissioner Riley, was sent to school officials in Amesbury, Bourne, Boxford, East Longmeadow, Gardner, Pittsfield, Provincetown, West Springfield, Gill-Montague, Mohawk Trail-Hawlemont, Mohawk Trail, Belmont and Watertown. Officials with Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public (District), Hoosac Valley Regional schools, and Manchester Essex Regional schools were also sent the letter.

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“We said, every three weeks, check out the trend and see where your district is and make a decision if you need to move or not,” Riley told Boston 25 News in an interview Monday afternoon. ″We’re asking, what is the plan to get kids back in person given that you’d had seven weeks -- not just three weeks -- of data?"

Commissioner Riley said the department gave districts a “grace period...but then we wanted them to use this data going forward on a three-week basis.”

The letter states DESE released school reopening guidance that prioritizes a return to in-person learning for as many students as possible.

“Statewide, we’ve heard from parents asking why their kids aren’t back in school,” Riley said. “I think there’s definitely been some concerns about that.”

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Since the inception of the weekly DPH color-coded reports, your community has consistently received a designation of green or gray, which indicates very low COVID-19 transmission in your municipality.

—  Commissioner Riley

The communities who received the letter are designated as green or gray in the state’s weekly color-coded risk designations.

High risk communities are highlighted in red, while slight risk communities are highlighted in yellow and low risk communities are green or gray.

Any city or town designated higher risk is considered to have a high level of COVID infection, and will receive additional support from the Commonwealth to address the spread of the virus.

In light of the stark discrepancy between local public health data and your reopening plan, I am requesting a timeline by which you anticipate providing in-person instruction for the majority of your students including in-person instruction for vulnerable populations, such as students with disabilities, if these students have not already returned to in-person school

—  Commissioner Riley

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“There are real problems that come with remote learning,” Riley said. “We think it’s going to be better than it was last spring, but nothing can take the place of in-person learning.”

School officials in these communities must submit a written response within 10 calendar days to Commissioner Riley.

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