Dozens of school districts in Massachusetts have been temporarily excused from the requirement to return students to classrooms full time starting next month.
At least 60 school districts in Massachusetts have been granted waivers allowing them more time to comply with education commissioner Jeff Riley’s order that elementary schools resume full-time in-person classes no later than April 5th and that middle schools offer only in-person instruction no later than April 26th.
Riley announced the schedule shortly after the state board of education voted on March 5th to give him the authority to decide when remote learning would no longer count toward the state’s instructional requirements.
"Now is the time to move our children back into school more robustly," said Riley at the March 5th board meeting.
More than half the school districts granted waivers by Riley this week, including Springfield and Worcester, have been entirely remote since schools closed more than a year ago and sought time to transition students and teachers back to the classroom.
Springfield had been making plans to return some students to part-time in-person instruction beginning in April when Riley’s orders came down.
"During the last several months we have worked hard on many fronts," said Springfield Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick.
He said the district has stockpiled personal protective equipment, is encouraging its 5,000 staff members to get vaccinated, and has equipped classrooms with technology to allow teachers to give lessons simultaneously to students who are present and to those who are remote.
The district spent $1.4 million to improve the ventilation in school buildings.
"All of that work is now complete, so our schools are ready to go in a safe manner," Warwick said.
Springfield schools will reopen on April 5th for students in pre-kindergarten through 6th grade in a hybrid model – two or three days a week of classroom instruction and the rest of the days remote. Beginning May 3rd, all students pre-k through 5th grade will be in classrooms five days per week.
High needs special education students and some other groups will have full-time in-person instruction starting April 5th.
Middle schools in Springfield will start hybrid learning programs on April 26th with five day a week in-person classes beginning May 10.
While the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise a minimum distance of three feet between students in the classroom, Warwick said Springfield schools have planned for six feet.
" Only 50 percent ( of students) will be coming in, so we think we will still be able to keep six-feet apart," Warwick said. "We are going to try to stay as close to six feet as we can."
Parents have the option to keep their children learning remotely for the rest of the school year, and Warwick said about half the district’s parents are expected to do so.
The state has not announced a schedule to reopen high schools for all in-person instruction.