MASSACHUSETTS — The state's chief education official has asked school districts to prioritize in-person learning when school resumes in the fall and keep reopening announcements close to the vest for a few more weeks.
Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley sent a letter to districts Friday, saying they need to provide the state with a reopening plan by July 31. Each district should present one plan encompassing how it plans to comply with health and safety requirements as well as what in-person, hybrid and remote-learning models will look like.
"Given the current low transmission rates of COVID-19 in the state, and pursuant to emergency regulations recently passed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, we are asking districts and schools to prioritize in-person instruction," Riley said. "Specifically, we have asked districts to focus on assessing the feasibility of bringing back students in-person, and those feasibility studies should be taking place in your districts now."
Riley also asked districts avoid making public announcements about reopening plans until early August — just weeks before the start of school. The reasons for waiting, he said, included possible new funding and any change in the state's COVID-19 transmission rate.
"I understand that local communities are eager for districts to finalize their reopening plans as soon as possible," Riley said. "At the same time, I am confident that our families and students will be better served by a thoughtful planning process that works first to explore options and takes in critical additional information before local plans are finalized."
The guidance comes as President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have been imploring states to have districts resume in-person learning once the school year begins. Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from those that don't.
Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley on Sunday criticized DeVos for having "no plan" when it comes to bringing kids back to school.
"Teachers, kids and parents are fearing for their lives," Pressley tweeted. "You point to a private sector that has put profits over people and claimed the lives of thousands of essential workers. I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child."
State officials have already released guidelines and mandates for reopening school in the fall. Among them are students in the second grade and up and all staff must wear masks, students must be at least 3 (but preferably 6) feet apart, and students should eat in their classrooms.