The vast majority of Massachusetts elementary schools returned to full-time, in-person learning on Monday, some for the first time since school buildings closed in March 2020 amid the initial wave of the pandemic in the United States.
An estimated 90 percent of school districts across the state are offering full-time learning for elementary students as of Monday, though all families will still have the option to keep their children in remote-only learning through the end of the academic year.
As of last Wednesday, about 575,000 Massachusetts students in public schools, educational collaboratives, and special education programs were attending some form of in-person learning, according to state officials. About 85,000 staff members were working in buildings.
The openings were the first step in Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s mandate for schools to fully reopen for in-person instruction as soon as possible. Middle schools are required to reopen full time by April 28, but a full-time reopening date has not been set for high schools.
The remaining 10 percent of districts, which includes the Boston and Worcester public schools, received waivers from the state to reopen their classrooms full time on a different schedule. Boston plans to bring K-8 students back for full-time learning no later than April 26, and Worcester by May 3.
Statewide, all elementary schools are expected to be fully in person by May 3, according to state officials.
The return to full-time school comes as coronavirus cases statewide continue to rise. The number of cases reported among students and staff members in schools also has steadily risen, with last week’s report hitting a record-breaking high.
State officials and many public health experts have urged families, however, not to be alarmed by the rising cases in schools. There are many factors at play with the rising school case numbers, they say, including the addition of pool testing in more than 1,000 schools statewide and the growing student population attending in-person school.
In-school coronavirus transmission has been extremely limited, and most cases among children are spreading outside the classroom at family events, after-school activities, and sports games, Russell Johnston, senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said last week.
“Public health experts and several data sources prove that in person learning is the best and safest place for students when protocols are followed, and many schools across the Commonwealth have been safely educating students in-person since September as there is no substitute for the important growth and development that in-classroom education provides children,” Colleen Quinn, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Education, wrote in a statement on Friday.