Gov. Baker, state education officials want elementary students back in classroom by April

BOSTON — With health metrics improving and mitigation measures in place across Massachusetts schools, Elementary and Secondary Commissioner Jeff Riley said Tuesday it’s time to begin the process of getting more students back into classrooms.

Riley, who joined Gov. Charlie Baker and Education Secretary James Peyser for press conference on education and COVID-19 Tuesday, told Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members that he plans to ask them in March to give him the authority to determine when hybrid and remote school models no longer count for learning hours, as part of a broader plan to return more students to physical school buildings.

Riley said he would take a “phased approach to returning students into the classrooms, working closely with state health officials and medical experts.” He said his plan would focus on elementary school students first, with the initial goal of having them learning in-person five days a week this April.

“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.

Parents would still be able to choose remote learning for their child through the end of the year, Riley said, and there would be a waiver process for districts that might need a more incremental approach.

Riley also told the board to expect more information soon on programs, slated to start this summer and likely to continue “for the next several years,” to address learning loss and gaps developed while students have been out of school buildings, including one-week intensive tutoring academies, programs with community colleges for high school seniors who did not pass MCAS tests, and increased gifted and talented programs for students of color.

Public schools in Massachusetts have been offering an array of education options this school year, with most schools blending remote and in-person learning and some schools still in remote-only operations. Teachers and school personnel have pushed to be moved up in the vaccination eligibility hierarchy, but currently remain behind other large groups.

Just last week, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu announced he was going to sign an executive order mandating at least two days of in-person learning for schools.

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