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State to allow remote learning pods, kids’ programs outside schools

The Department of Early Education and Care will also support providers in creative solutions to partner with communities to meet the needs of families.
The Department of Early Education and Care will also support providers in creative solutions to partner with communities to meet the needs of families.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

State education officials announced Friday that families can form small remote-learning co-ops, after-school programs can operate during typical school hours, and churches and community centers can host students who might otherwise be unsupervised when out of school this fall.

The move was made in recognition of the challenges that working parents will face in many districts where schools are expected to hold virtual classes at least part of the week.

The Baker administration had encouraged schools in areas with low rates of COVID-19 to start the school year normally. But since many districts opted for some form of remote learning, Education Secretary James Peyser said in a statement Friday, “it’s critical that we enable parents, after-school providers, and community organizations to offer additional child-care options and learning supports when students are unable to attend school in person.”

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Licensed child-care providers will automatically be allowed to serve older children during the school day, in addition to before, after, and out-of-school time.

The state is also expediting licensing so that child-care providers can tap additional space to expand capacity to serve older children. Some day-care centers, for instance, aim to open kindergarten rooms to accommodate the siblings of younger children already in their care.

A larger change will be making spots available for students to be supervised during their remote learning time. “Remote learning enrichment programs” will accept children on a regular or drop-in basis to supervise children from kindergarten to 14 years old, or up to 16 with special needs.

Organizations that want to provide such a space must apply to the local city or town for approval, beginning Monday. The municipality will be responsible for overseeing safety, conducting background checks of staff, and maintaining COVID-appropriate group sizes and health protocols. Group sizes will be limited to the state’s limits on crowds: 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors.

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Learning pods, or groups convened by up to five families, will be able to operate without licenses, as long as a parent is on-site at all times. Payments are not allowed, and exchanges of funds are limited to compensation for food and materials.

Governor Charlie Baker on Friday made the changes by executive order.

The Department of Early Education and Care will also support providers in creative solutions to partner with communities to meet the needs of families, officials said.

Some parents and providers had pushed for more flexibility to be able to care for children who will not all be permitted to attend school at the same time, due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.


Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.