New normal for schools: Masks, isolation rooms, social distancing

New normal for schools: Masks, isolation rooms, social distancing

BOSTON — Getting as many students back to in-person learning at schools this fall is the primary goal of the Baker administration, officials said Thursday.

“This plan will allow schools to responsibly do what is best for students, which is to bring them back to school to learn and grow,” said Governor Charlie Baker.

Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance was shared publicly on Thursday, by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE.

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It outlines numerous restrictions and plans to bring students and teachers to reopened schools with minimized risks for COVID-19 based on input from the Return-To-School Working Group, infectious disease physicians, pediatricians and other public health experts.

“Based on the combination of health and safety requirements and rigorous protocols that we are putting in place for the fall, we believe the risk of transmission in schools is likely lower than the risks of transmission in many other settings,” the report states.

In addition, the report also says “the Baker-Polito Administration announced the allocation of approximately $200 million from the Commonwealth’s federal Coronavirus Relief Fund for costs related to reopening public schools. Schools are eligible to receive up to $225 per student for eligible costs incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, such as training for school staff, supplemental social and academic services, reconfiguration of school spaces, leasing of temporary facilities, and acquisition of health and hygiene supplies.”

Changes

Staff and students who are in grade 2 and up will be required to wear facial masks covering their noses and mouths.

Families and students are asked to provide their own masks though some accommodations are anticipated for those with financial hardship.

Kindergarteners and first graders will not be required to wear masks but it is encouraged.

The guidance calls for mask breaks throughout the day and those with medical conditions or disabilities are exempt. Desks would be at least 3 feet, ideally 6 feet apart, facing the same direction. Classrooms would be reconfigured along with cafeteria, library, and auditorium space repurposed for distance.

Students would not have their temperatures taken when they arrive or leave school, but staff will observe for any symptomatic children. Parents are asked to keep students with COVID-like symptoms to keep them home.

Isolation space

Schools would be required to set up isolation space away from the nurse’s office for students who present symptoms.

“Part of the reason if you look throughout our guidance, we’re asking schools to really think critically about how they use the space in their building, whether that’s the library cafeteria because often students will be eating in the classroom, said Jeffrey Riley, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner.

Next steps

School districts are asked to take the information in the new guidance and craft three plans: one for in-person instruction, remote learning, and hybrid of virtual and in-class instruction and submit it by August.

In July, the state said it will provide new guidance related to transportation, athletics, English learner programs and special education.

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