Schools to reopen with desks 6 feet apart, masks for everyone

BOSTON — The state has provided guidance for Massachusetts schools to reopen in the fall, including requirements for safety supplies and social distancing guidelines to protect against coronavirus.

Desks must be at least six feet apart and students and staff must also keep six feet of distance from one another, requiring class sizes to shrink, Jeffrey Riley, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in a memorandum to superintendents.

All students and staff must wear face masks or coverings, unless they cannot due to age or a condition.

Schools must also buy a back-up supply of masks for students and staff if they do not bring them to school, as well as gloves, gowns, face shields, protective eye wear and other gear for school nurses, custodians and some special education teachers.

"We are issuing this guidance on key safety supplies now so that districts can begin the ordering process for critical items that may be harder to procure and/or have longer potential delivery times," Riley says.

The memo provides information for schools to find and buy such supplies.

The guidance also includes frequent hand-washing and disinfecting surfaces, as well as enhanced protocols for enforcing students and staff staying home if sick.

More than 30,000 parents have signed a petition on, urging Gov. Charlie Baker to allow students to return to school without masks or social distancing. The petition can be found here.

Amie Geary, a Lynnfield mother, has signed the petition and is drafting a letter to send to state and local leaders in opposition to the state’s guidance. As many as 100 other parents plan to sign it, Geary said. She cites data indicating children are less vulnerable to the virus.

"I want to see them go back to school as normal. Go back to school the way it was before," Geary said. "Life is about calculated risks. And I am a parent. I am willing to take the calculated risk to send my children to school so that they can get an education."

Geary said expecting children, especially the youngest students, to wear masks every day is impractical.

"I just don’t think my kids at that age, at that young age, are going to keep the masks on. And it's scary, it's scary to see people in masks," said Geary, whose twins are six and older daughter is eight. "I understand the good intentions behind it, but it doesn’t work, and it's not going to work for elementary-age children."

Geary isn't sure how the schools will be able to comply with the 10-student maximum without including remote learning in the curriculum. But online classes have not been working, she said, and children not interacting with their peers is affecting their well-being.

"These kids need recess, they need social interaction. We need to prioritize their social and emotional well-being at this point," Geary said. "The risk to children is so low that we cannot justify not educating them at this point."

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