New school rules for hybrid, remote learning in Massachusetts take effect today

Massachusetts

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(WWLP) – Starting Tuesday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will require schools to have minimum times for live and remote instruction.

Students are one of the groups most impacted by isolation due to the pandemic. State education officials are hoping these new rules will help improve education and mental health.

“This last semester all my classes were remote and you don’t really have that connection. Teachers try their best but sometimes it’s in through one ear and out the other,” said Nathan Quinn of Amherst.

Districts and schools with a hybrid learning model must provide students with access to at least 35 hours of “live instruction” over a ten school day period. This may work out to 3.5 hours-a-day.

Live instruction means the combination of in-person and remote synchronous instruction. Synchronous instruction, is learning that is done by a teacher and that happens in real-time with other students, such as during live, whole-class instruction, and small group work.

The Department adopted the amendments on an “emergency basis” at the December 15th meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

For both hybrid and remote learning, students must have an opportunity to interact with educators each school day, including a required daily “live” check-in between students and educators.

Schools with a remote learning model must provide students with access to at least 40 hours of synchronous instruction over a ten school day period including time every day.

Any district that does not comply or receive a waiver by Tuesday will be required to make up any time missed due to non-compliance by the end of the school year. Districts and schools may choose to implement the new standards in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten grades as determined locally, but they are not required to do so.

Here is a list of what counts as synchronous instruction:

  • Live online classes that the teacher leads for the whole class, which may include breakout rooms for students to complete tasks and activities with access to the teacher.  
  • Livestreaming of in-person instruction accessed by remote students.
  • Small group instruction while students are learning remotely. In this model, a teacher is present online with their class, working with small groups of students in turn while the remaining students engage in independent or small group work. Students should be able to signal to the teacher that they need support.

Does not count as synchronous instruction:

  • “Office hours” or other optional check-in opportunities for students to contact or connect with teachers, where not all students are required to be present.

For background on the decision, according to DESE, these requirements are to address the “significant mental health challenges facing our students” during the pandemic. The state found in a survey that for at least one day every two weeks, many students went without live interaction from a teacher.

For more on the requirements and how they may be implemented, click here.

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