Now that Massachusetts schools will remain shut for the rest of the academic year, questions are swirling about what the decision will mean for seniors about to graduate, standardized testing, the future of remote learning, and more. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.
What does the continued school shutdown mean for students, teachers, and families?
While remote learning will continue at the 406 school districts in Massachusetts, all private and public school buildings will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. State officials believe students cannot yet safely return to school and avoid the risk of transmitting the virus to others. Governor Charlie Baker’s order Tuesday does not apply to residential special education schools. “This is a big decision,'' Baker said. “It’s the right thing to do, considering the facts on the ground associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
What will happen to my senior year — graduation, prom, and sports championships?
For high school seniors, many rites of passage will be lost this year. There will be no ordinary proms, graduation ceremonies, athletic championships, or other “once in a lifetime” events that fill the calendar — though some schools may plan special online or delayed ceremonies. For seniors that is especially tough. “They’ve all worked hard for four years,'' Baker said, "and they look forward to the so-called last season, whether it’s to play lacrosse, run track, participate in a school play, go to the prom, graduate. Because of COVID-19, a lot of this will not happen.”
What will remote learning look like from now on?
Despite the “unprecedented interruption to an entire generation of students,” the state wants to minimize learning loss as much as possible, said Jeffrey Riley, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education. Riley said officials are committed to making remote learning work smoothly for all students, but they have a long way to go. He said he expects to issue additional guidance this week.
Can I stop studying now, or do I have to keep on doing Google classroom?
Baker stressed that the closure announcement doesn’t mean "it’s time to start summer vacation early.'' State remote learning guidelines call for “students to engage in meaningful and productive learning for approximately half the length of a regular school day.” The state is taking additional steps to boost those efforts for the remainder of this school year. Those include preparing for summer learning and targeting students at risk of falling behind their grade level to ensure they have a “strong start” in the fall, Baker said. State education officials are also launching a remote learning initiative that will provide more tools for teachers and students to use from home.
What about families that don’t have WiFi for remote learning?
Baker’s office said the state is conducting a survey of school districts to identify barriers to remote learning, including “inequitable” access to technology. An advisory group will work with outside partners to “mobilize resources for schools, including philanthropic gifts and in-kind contributions.”
How will I be graded this school year?
Riley said the state’s initial advice to school districts was to adopt a “credit” or “no credit” system of grading this spring, but grading decisions are ultimately being left to individual districts.
Will I be held back as a student?
State officials said "it is unlikely that a student would be held back only because of the school closure due to the coronavirus.''
Will standardized tests proceed as previously announced?
Earlier this month, the College Board canceled June SAT tests and floated the "unlikely’' scenario of holding college admissions exams at home. Also earlier, Massachusetts education officials canceled this spring’s MCAS testing.
Can I clean out my locker?
That’s up to local school districts, which will take into consideration the public health situation.
Will I be required to take summer school?
Each district will make its own decision. In Boston, officials plan to continue to offer access to "high-quality learning activities in the summer.” Boston officials are also exploring options for virtual learning and enrichment activities to optimize continuity of learning and mitigate students’ learning loss, they said.
What is the plan for restarting school for the next academic year?
Riley said he will release guidance this week on reopening schools. The shutdown announcement will give his team additional time to work with health and safety experts on how best to make a fall start possible, he said. "For now, I hope everyone will continue to work with their students to do the best they can on remote learning,'' he said.
What does all of this mean for Boston Public Schools?
In Boston, public schools officials said they have been “developing contingency plans” for all scenarios, including whether schools would stay shuttered this school year. "Now that a decision has been made, BPS is working with our partners to finalize plans that will provide our students and families with more information about what learning from home will look like for the remainder of the school year,'' said Jessica Ridlen, communications director for the district.
Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.