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Boston seeking delay on full-time in-person learning

Buses returned to the school bus lot on Freeport Street after the morning run to Boston schools.
Buses returned to the school bus lot on Freeport Street after the morning run to Boston schools.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Boston school officials announced on Monday they will seek state approval to delay a return of full-time in-person learning in its elementary schools on April 5, but remain committed to bringing students back to classrooms five days a week later in the month.

The district is planning to make full-time instruction available April 26 for elementary and middle school students, according to a waiver the district filed Monday seeking an exemption from a state edict to open elementary schools full time on April 5. The Horace Mann School for the Deaf, the McKinley schools, and the Carter School would also open full time on April 26 for students in all grade levels.

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Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in the waiver that the delay was necessary to ensure a smooth transition. State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has the final say.

“Beginning five days of full-time, in-person learning on April 26, immediately following BPS spring recess, will allow the district time to implement thorough operational preparation, communicate updates with families in a timely manner, and ensure most of our educators and staff have received vaccination for COVID-19,” she wrote.

The district plans to reduce physical distancing between students in classrooms from six feet to three feet to achieve enough space to accommodate more students. Six feet of social distancing will remain in cafeterias and for other unmasked activities.

School officials began surveying parents last week about their interest in sending children back into classrooms five days a week or in learning from home full time. So far, parents of 63 percent of students — or 32,386 of the more than 50,000 students in the district — have responded. Sixty percent favor a full-time return.

Parents will retain the right for the remainder of the school year to have their children learn remotely from home.

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Boston is one of several districts expected to file waivers from a state edict to return elementary schools to full-time instruction on April 5. The state has also instructed districts to reopen their middle schools full time on April 28. A date has not been set for high schools.

The edicts, approved earlier this month, come as Boston was rolling out part-time, in-person learning, a process that has stretched on for several months. Initially, the district opened fewer than three dozen schools in two separate waves at the end of 2020 for students who require highly specialized services. Other high-needs students joined them in February.

General education students began returning to classrooms part-time this month, with students in preschool through grade 3 arriving the first week and students in grades 4-8 returning last week. High school students are slated to come back next week.

Parents who are eager for a full-time return said they were disappointed that school officials were seeking a delay and urged Riley to reject the request.

“Why wait?” said Megan Castro, a mother of three children in elementary school and a member of Voices for BPS Families, which has been pushing for a full-time return. “April 26 is over a month from now.”

Roxan Harvey, chairwoman of Boston’s Special Education Parent Advisory Council, said she doesn’t understand why Boston doesn’t have a plan in place yet for a full-time return, noting they had months to prepare.

“These children’s needs must be addressed now,” she said. “I don’t see the need to make our students and families wait any longer.”

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Boston’s potential delay would align somewhat with a push by the state’s teachers unions to delay a full-time return until after April vacation.

The Boston Teachers Union supports the delay, but still has concerns about the short time frame for implementation, coming on the heels of phasing in part-time in-person instruction, said the group’s president, Jessica Tang. Of particular concern is the continued insistence that teachers simultaneously teach those students who are in their classrooms and those who are at home.

“We do think that delaying to April 26 is a prudent move to ensure all preparations that need to be in place are in place,” Tang said, emphasizing the union wants students back in classrooms as quickly and safely as possible.

Read Boston’s waiver to the state:


James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.