All coronavirus-related protocols, including social distancing, will be lifted at schools for the start of the 2021-22 academic year, and every school will be required to be back fully in person, state education officials told superintendents on Thursday.
School districts will not be allowed to offer remote learning as a standard learning model, according to the new guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Pathways that existed prior to the pandemic for offering virtual learning to individual students in limited cases will remain available to districts and schools,” including single-district virtual schools or home- or hospital-based tutoring programs for documented medical conditions, the state education agency said.
The upcoming changes to the safety protocols for schools come as Massachusetts prepares to drop its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday. All industries will be allowed to reopen without restrictions, and fully vaccinated people will no longer need to wear masks, except in certain situations.
State education and public health leaders plan to work together this summer to determine if there are any necessary health and safety protocols to add in September, such as mask-wearing for elementary school students, who are not eligible for coronavirus vaccines.
Earlier this month, state education leaders updated the mask guidance for K-12 and child care settings, allowing children to stop wearing masks during outdoor activities, such as recess, begin sharing classroom objects again without disinfecting between uses.
In its guidance on Thursday, DESE noted that though coronavirus restrictions will drop this fall, schools are encouraged to “maintain ventilation upgrades from this past year as feasible, continue hand hygiene practices, and extend policies that encourage students and staff to continue to stay home when sick.”
The current health and safety guidelines will remain in place through the end of the school year.
Beth Humberd, an Andover mother and a leading member of parent advocacy group Bring Kids Back MA, said Thursday night it’s “hopeful and helpful” for the state to release this guidance now, rather than waiting until later this summer.
She is still concerned, however, about the lack of clarity around mask-wearing for young children.
“One of the things we’ve been really asking for, as parents, is whatever’s happening for adults and for the state, can we align children with that?” she said. “Collectively as parents in Bring Kids Back MA, we would expect and urge there wouldn’t be any more additional unique restrictions for the younger children given their low risk profile associated with the virus.”
Documented cases of coronavirus transmission in schools has been extremely limited , and reports of coronavirus cases among public school students and staff members have dropped in recent weeks as more people have been able to get vaccinated.
Just 229 new coronavirus cases among students and 21 among staff members were reported for the week that ended Wednesday; it was the lowest recorded single-week level of staff-member cases yet.