Amid growing concerns over coronavirus, state officials urged local school systems on Tuesday to cancel any out-of-state travel, loosened state rules on making up school days, and released other recommendations.
The recommendation to halt out-of-state travel expands upon previous guidance from the state education department in recent weeks to cancel international trips. The move could have widespread implications for schools across the state, especially for many high schools that were planning to take students on college tours outside of Massachusetts.
Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley also informed school district leaders in a letter scheduled to go out Tuesday that school systems that cancel school will not have to make up any days beyond the 185 days they are required to schedule under state rules, which includes a bank of five snow days. The temporary rule change goes into effect on March 16.
“The change means that if you have already canceled school for five days before March 15, you do not need to schedule additional make-up days for any days school is closed after March 15," Riley wrote in the letter. “The longest any district will be required to go is their scheduled 185th day. No schools will be required to be in session after June 30.”
In another significant move, Riley recommended that school districts encourage older community members and those at increased risk of illness to avoid large school gatherings — guidance that could generate some emotional conversations among families as graduations and other end-of-school year events draw near.
School districts will also gain some relief under the state’s school district accountability system, which can penalize schools for having too many students who are chronically absent from school, Riley said. The latter could have become a notable issue if large numbers of students needed to self quarantine because of the coronavirus.
Riley, however, said his agency will not use any attendance data beyond March 2 to calculate chronic absenteeism.