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Baker administration asks schools to prioritize in-person instruction this fall and not announce final plans until August

Commissioner Jeffrey Riley speaks at a press conference in June.
Commissioner Jeffrey Riley speaks at a press conference in June.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has asked schools to prioritize in-person instruction this fall and not announce any final plans about reopening until early August.

In a new guidance released Friday, Riley said officials are asking schools to “prioritize in-person instruction” because of the current low transmission rate of coronavirus in Massachusetts. He asked districts to do “feasibility studies” to determine the practicality of bringing students back for in-person learning.

Riley also asked schools to “hold off on announcing any final decisions about what reopening will look like for the fall.” The state, he explained, wants more information first about the potential for federal financial resources and the progression of coronavirus transmission rates.

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“While preparations for the fall must move forward, we are still waiting for key information that will directly impact the best fit reopening model for each community,” he wrote. “This includes more information about financial resources that may be available, including the possibility of a second federal stimulus package, and any change in local COVID-19 transmission rates.”

“I understand that local communities are eager for districts to finalize their reopening plans as soon as possible,” he continued. “At the same time, I am confident that our families and students will be better served by a thoughtful planning process that works first to explore options and takes in critical additional information before local plans are finalized.”

School districts are expected to submit to the state a school reopening plan that includes three scenarios: in-person learning, remote learning, and a hybrid of the two. Each school’s plan also has to address safety protocols and “must also describe how special populations will be effectively served within each of the models,” Riley wrote.

Individual plans must be sent the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by July 31.

President Trump and US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have put pressure on state leaders to bring students back to classrooms this fall, with Trump going so far as to threaten to pull federal funding from schools if they don’t resume in-person learning.

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But Governor Charlie Baker said Trump is treating the issue like a “one-size-fits-all policy,” which is “inappropriate” when it comes to planning for the fall.

“I think what they ought to be doing is working with folks like us and others to come up with strategies that ensure that they and we can work together to ensure that schools have the resources they need to be able to open,” Baker said.


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.