DESE Commissioner Explains Goal To Bring Kids Back To School

Commissioner Riley said there is widespread agreement in the medical community that younger students are less likely to contract the virus.

Video Transcript

- Good afternoon, it continues to be vital that we get as many students back in person as possible before the end of the school year. This morning, I made the board aware that I will be asking them to vote to amend student learning time regulations to give me the authority to determine when the hybrid and remote models no longer count for learning hours.

If I am granted this authority, I would take a phased in approach to returning students to the classroom, working closely with state health officials and medical experts. My focus would be on bringing back elementary students first, with the plan likely extending to middle school grades later in the school year and possibly high schools as well.

Ideally, my initial goal is to bring all elementary school students back to in-person learning five days a week in April. Parents will still have the option for their children to learn remotely through the end of the school year, if they so choose. And there will be a waiver process for districts who may need to take a more incremental approach, for example, to first move to a hybrid model if they are currently fully remote.

Starting with elementary students is common sense, as there is widespread agreement in the medical community that younger students are less likely to contract the virus and to transmit it. Elementary students are also easier to cohort. And from an educational perspective, these are some of the students that are struggling the most developmentally and with remote learning. It's very hard, for example, for a first grader to learn how to read remotely.

Since June, we have developed hundreds of pages of detailed health and safety guidance for school districts to help mitigate the spread of the virus in our school communities. We know that the core mitigation strategies of mask-wearing, handwashing, social distancing, and grouping students into cohorts all work to reduce spread within our schools. These health protocols remain the most important strategies to keep our students and teachers safe.

With our partners at DPH and HHS, we launched one of the most ambitious statewide pool testing programs in the nation. There are now hundreds of schools taking part in weekly pool testing of their students, teachers, and staff. This impacts more than 280,000 students from across the state and thousands of teachers and staff.

Working with the medical community, Massachusetts Schools have done an incredible job of keeping our students and staff safe during this pandemic. The superintendents and their school staff have done amazing work implementing the mitigation strategies and the pool testing. And I cannot shout them out enough.

We are now asking them to go one step further to begin the process of getting more of our kids back to school this spring. I would personally like to thank all of the educators for their continued partnership and willingness to take on all the challenges we have faced this year. Thank you. It's now my honor to introduce Secretary Pisar.