BOSTON (WWLP ) – Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito joined Secretary of Education James Peyser and Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley for a news conference Thursday afternoon regarding the reopening guidelines for schools in Massachusetts.

Schools were ordered to close on March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic and now since Massachusetts is in Phase two of reopening schools are now looking to the future and preparing to potentially open in the fall.

According to the guidance from Commissioner Riley, if the current positive public health metrics hold, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education believes that when following critical health requirements they will be able to safely return to in-person school this fall with plans in place to protect all members of the educational community.

“Now we have an obligation to do everything that we can to get kids safely back into the classroom so that they can benefit from the guidance of their teachers, other leaders and their peers,” said Governor Baker.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is requiring each district and school to also plan for remote learning and a hybrid school model which is a combination of in-person and remote learning if conditions change this fall or winter. 

The following health and safety requirements will enable the safe reopening of schools for in-person learning this fall:

  • Students in grades 2 and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth
  • Students in kindergarten and grade 1 should be encouraged to wear a mask/face covering 
  • Face shields may be an option for those students with medical, behavioral, or other challenges who are unable to wear masks/face coverings
  • Transparent masks may be the best option for both teachers and students in classes for deaf and hard of hearing students. They may also be useful for teachers and younger students who rely on visual/facial cues
  • Adults, including educators and staff, are required to wear masks/face coverings  
  • Exceptions to mask/face covering requirements must be made for those for whom it is not possible due to medical conditions, disability impact, or other health or safety factors
  • Mask breaks should occur throughout the day when students can be six feet apart and ideally outside or at least with the windows open
  • Masks/face coverings should be provided by the student/family, but extra disposable face masks should be made available by the school for students who need them. Reusable masks/face coverings provided by families should be washed daily. Districts and schools with families experiencing financial hardship and unable to afford masks/face coverings should endeavor to provide masks for students through grant funds described earlier in this document
  • Masks/face coverings are required to be worn by everyone on the bus during school bus transportation
  • We encourage districts and schools to aim for six feet of distance between individuals where feasible and three feet is the minimum distance allowed. Schools should seek to maximize physical distance among individuals within their physical and operational constraints
  • Schools should aim for desks to be spaced six feet apart (but no fewer than three feet apart) and facing the same direction  
  • Alternative spaces in the school such as the cafeteria, library, and auditorium should be repurposed to increase the amount of available space to accommodate the maximum distance possible 
  • Additional safety precautions are required for school nurses and/or any staff supporting students with disabilities in close proximity when distance is not possible such as eye protection like a face shield or goggles and a mask/face covering. Precautions may also include gloves and disposable gowns or washable outer layers of clothing depending on the duration of contact and especially if the individual may come into close contact with bodily fluids  
  • Elementary schools should aim to keep students in the same group throughout the day and middle and high schools are encouraged to minimize mixing student groups to the extent feasible
  • Cohorts: Schools should divide students into small groups that remain with each other throughout the day, with smaller cohort sizes preferred. Schools should look for ways to isolate cohorts of students and prevent inter-group contact to the extent feasible
  • Screening upon entry:  Checking for symptoms each morning by families and caregivers is critical and will serve as the primary screening mechanism for COVID-19 symptoms. The DESE will be providing a checklist of symptoms and other guides to districts and schools to help families and students
  • Screening procedures are not required at the point of entry to the school but school staff, as well as bus drivers, should observe students throughout the day and refer students who may be symptomatic to the school healthcare point of contact  
  • Students and staff are required to wash their hands and/or sanitize upon arrival to school, before eating, before putting on and taking off masks, and before dismissal