By Lauren Bennett
Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced that the state has a goal of getting elementary school students back into the classroom full-time by April.
“I think we all know that when COVID hit last year, just about this time, teachers, staff, and students experienced an incredible disruption to their daily routines in school,” Baker said, “and ever since, have been adapting and adjusting to the challenges that came with the pandemic.”
Baker said that districts across the state have made adjustments to help their students adapt to the challenges put forth by the pandemic, “but I think we all agree there’s no substitute for in-person learning, especially for kids in elementary school,” he said.
“Our administration has been clear for months that the best place for kids is in the classroom,” Baker said.
He said that Jeff Riley, the Commissioner of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, began a process on Tuesday with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education“ to get more kids back into the classroom full time by phasing out remote-only learning in April” and allow students, beginning with elementary school students, to attend classes in person Monday through Friday.
Baker said that the process would begin with students in elementary school, and that the state “hope[s] to be moving ahead soon,” he said. “We know the pandemic’s been difficult on everyone, but it’s been really tough on kids and their parents as they struggle to be out of the classroom and detached from their teachers and their peers.”
Approximately 80 percent of the state’s school districts are currently providing some sort of in-person learning, whether it be a hybrid model or fully in person, Baker said.
“Districts with in-person learning, regardless of how high COVID transmission is in their community, have seen few, if any, examples of in-school transmission,” Baker said. He said that with “proper mitigation strategies” and compliance with protocols, “schools across the Commonwealth have been able to safely welcome kids back to the classroom for many months now.”
However, about 20 percent of the state’s school districts are still fully remote, which translates to about 400,000 kids, Baker said, “most of whom haven’t been in a classroom since March [of last year].”
Baker said that students’ “social, mental, and emotional well-being has been significantly impacted” by being out of the classroom.
“The science is pretty clear on this one: there are now dozens of reports from all over the world that it’s safe to be in school, and doctors and public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, all agree that getting kids back in school needs to be a top priority,” Baker said.
He said that the state has “committed funding, resources, and supports to schools and districts to return to classrooms.”
Commissioner Riley said he would “take a phased-in approach to returning students to the classroom, working closely with state health officials and medical experts.”
He said he would work first to return elementary school students to in-person learning, “with the plan likely extending to middle school grades later in the school year and possibly high schools as well.”
Parents who do not wish to send their children for in person learning will not be required to do so, and they can remain learning remotely through the end of the school year, Riley said, adding that “there will be a waiver process for districts who may need to take a more incremental approach,” Riley said, adding that fully remote schools could first transition to a hybrid model.
Baker said that “with COVID cases and hospitalizations continuing to decline and vaccines well underway, it’s time to set our sites on eliminating remote learning by April and starting with elementary schools.” He said the state will continue to ramp up vaccine distribution as much as possible and open more mass vaccination sites statewide.