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Cambridge, Malden, and Medford each approve remote-only start for most students

A sample elementary classroom from before the pandemic (left) and during (right) under Medford's plans.Courtesy of Medford Public Schools

School committees in Cambridge, Malden, and Medford have each approved plans for most students to start the school year on a remote-only basis.

The approvals make them the latest in a string of Massachusetts communities that have opted to start the year remotely, despite pleas from Governor Charlie Baker to bring back as many students to the classroom as possible.

Each school committee met Thursday to discuss the proposals they have submitted to the state and begin ironing out the details of their final plans, which are due to the state by Aug. 14.

In Cambridge, city leaders have put together a primarily remote plan that allows some families with higher-need students to opt in to in-person instruction. Families can opt in if their children are in 3rd grade or younger, have special needs, or are English learners.

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“We recognize that for some students, the spring was really hard, and [we were] trying to both think about the health considerations, in terms of younger students being less likely to become infected and become ill, as well as knowing that our youngest learners may have more difficulty with learning remotely,” said Superintendent Kenneth Salim.

All Cambridge students will start with remote learning on Sept. 16, and those who are able to opt in to in-person instruction will return to the building on Sept. 21.

Salim said part of planning for the return to school meant acknowledging that they “can’t make the risk zero” for students and staff, but they can do their best to make the school as safe as possible.

“We’re learning like everyone else,” he said. “Nobody has had to plan for a school year like this one across the entire country. We’re just trying to do our best to learn from others.”

Meanwhile, in Malden, the School Committee also approved a remote-only start to the year, beginning Sept. 16, with the goal of creating a phased-in plan for bringing students back once it’s safe to do so, said Superintendent John Oteri.

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Oteri said safety was their school district’s primary objective.

“The fully in-person was not feasible given the distancing requirements and the hybrid model had a lot of issues with it,” he said. “We felt the remote model was the one that landed on safety first.”

Medford officials also approved a remote-only start with a phased-in plan to bring students back for hybrid learning over the course of the fall, according to a spokeswoman for the city’s schools.

In both their remote-only and hybrid models, high-needs students will be able to receive at least some in-person instruction.