Massachusetts School Reopening Guidelines for Fall 2020: 5 Things To Know
Since kids closed the laptop on an online spring, the question on all parents' minds has been: What is school going to look like in the fall? On Thursday, we got a clearer picture as Governor Baker and Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley released what they're calling "Initial Reopening Guidance" for Massachusetts schools. They expressed optimism that schools can return to in-person learning—hooray!—albeit with some guidelines to help keep kids and teachers safe. Here are five important things we can expect, from desk spacing to mask wearing to lunch protocols.
1. School could be a mix of in-person and remote learning.
With COVID-19 risks tricky to predict, Commissioner Riley told educators to prepare for three possible scenarios in the fall: 100 percent in-person school, a mix of in-person school days and online school days, and 100 percent online school. But the message was clear that state officials think in-person learning, if safe and possible, is important for Massachusetts kids in the fall. “While for most children COVID-19 has not had the devastating and life-threatening physical health effects that have occurred in adults, the negative impact on their education, mental health and social development has been substantial," said Lloyd Fisher, M.D., a pediatrician and member of the working group that advised Governor Baker about the latest guidance. “Nothing can take the place of the daily face-to-face interaction our children experience when attending school in person.”
2. Desks should be spaced at least 3 feet apart.
Forget the hivelike, "collaborative" desk arrangments that have become popular in recent years: The state is advising that schools position desks 6 feet apart (3 feet apart, at minimum). Schools are also instructed to have desks facing the same way (presumably to minimize the amount of face-to-face contact). Cafeterias, auditoriums, and libraries will likely need to be repurposed in schools with larger populations or tighter classrooms to accommodate desk spacing.
3. Kids in second grade and up should wear face masks throughout the day.
Students starting in Grade 2 should wear face masks, according to state guidance, while children in kindergarten and first grade should be "encouraged" but not required to do so. There is not yet official word on how long and in what scenarios children should keep their faces covered—guidance is forthcoming, according to the report—but "mask breaks" should occur throughout the day.
4. Kids will learn, move, eat, and socialize with the same small group of kids each day.
Social mixing and matching is usually encouraged at school—but not during COVID-19. Children are likely to be placed in a smaller-than-normal group—officials are calling it a "cluster" or "cohort"—that will stick together throughout the school day.
5. Lunch will likely take place in individual classrooms.
To keep groups small and social distance in place, state guidelines suggest that lunch be held in classrooms (where, presumably, desks will be situated 6 feet apart). For schools that do serve food in a lunchroom or cafeteria instead, meal times should be staggered so that "clusters" are maintained.
For the complete report from Massachusetts education officials, see the Initial Fall Reopening Guidance. And watch this space: We will report on more school news as further guidelines are issued. Until then, enjoy all the pleasures of summer family fun while school is out!