Marking the final phase of Massachusetts’ return to traditional classroom learning, nearly every Massachusetts high school will welcome students back for full-time, in-person learning on Monday, if they have not done so already.
The reopening comes just days after 12- to 15-year-olds were able to begin receiving their first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, endorsed by US health advisers last week for emergency use in the younger age group. Many hope the new vaccine eligibility will make full-time school reopening even safer as both students and staff members in high schools — and many middle schools — are able to get vaccinated.
A return to full-time, in-person learning has been a priority for Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, who was given the authority in March to set mandated full-time return dates for schools statewide.
High schools are the final phase in the state’s school reopening plans.
Sixteen districts and schools submitted waiver requests to the state, asking permission to either delay their full-time return or keep a hybrid learning model. Just six waivers were approved: South Shore Regional Vocational Technical High School, Worcester South High Community School, Somerville High School (for 12th grade only), Prospect Hill Charter School (for 12th grade only), the LABBB Collaborative, and Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School. One waiver is still pending.
In total, 99 percent of the state’s high schools will be open Monday, according to the state.
Middle schools were required to return to in-person learning five days a week at the end of April, and most elementary schools reopened full-time a few weeks earlier, on April 5. An estimated 690,000 students have been attending in-person classes as of Wednesday, according to a report from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
More than 900,000 students are being offered fully in-person instruction in the state’s public schools, according to a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Education. All families have the option to keep students home for full-time remote learning this academic year.
“Being in the classroom is the optimal place for our students to be,” Governor Charlie Baker said at a press conference ahead of the middle schools’ reopening. “We believe it’s critical to get all of our kids back with their teachers and their peers to learn and socialize — and to have a chance, in this very long and difficult year, to be a kid.”
The Baker administration, including both education and public health leaders, have emphasized all year that in-school transmission of the coronavirus is limited, particularly when mitigation measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing are taken.
In an effort to make more families and staff members comfortable with in-person learning, they also launched a voluntary pool testing program in February that has been free for districts to participate. As of May 9, more than 86,500 pools have been processed from 188 school districts since Feb. 1; the pool positivity rate has been just 0.81 percent.
Weekly coronavirus cases reported in Massachusetts schools have been falling in recent weeks, alongside the decline of cases statewide. After a record-high week in mid-April of 1,279 student and staff coronavirus cases, school leaders reported just 620 cases to the state for the week that ended Wednesday.