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Here are the latest changes to Mass. schools’ COVID-19 guidance

In December, the auditorium at Wellesley High School was being used as a socially distanced classroom space.
In December, the auditorium at Wellesley High School was being used as a socially distanced classroom space.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Massachusetts education leaders have updated the state’s COVID-19 guidance for schools, dropping all major coronavirus-related protocols, but leaving the possibility open of future health and safety recommendations around mask-wearing for younger students.

Here are a few key changes from the new guidance, sent to superintendents on Thursday night:

No remote school

State education leaders have said for weeks they wouldn’t plan to allow remote learning this fall. But that notion became official Thursday night.

“Districts and schools will be required to be in-person, full-time, five days a week this fall,” the state guidance read, noting that “pathways that existed prior to the pandemic for offering virtual learning to individual students in limited cases will remain available to districts and schools.”

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These include single-district virtual schools or home- or hospital-based tutoring programs for documented medical conditions. Only two virtual schools currently exist in Massachusetts, but more than a dozen districts have applied to the state to create these online academies.

School districts will not be allowed to offer remote school as a standard leaning model.

All health and safety recommendations lifted

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which issued the guidance, said all coronavirus mitigation strategies will be kept in place through the end of the academic year.

But at the start of the 2021-22 year, they will all be lifted, including social distancing.

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 guidance says.

The future of masks

Currently, students are required to wear masks indoors and on school buses, but not during recess, outdoor activities or sports.

The state hasn’t decided yet whether younger students, who are not eligible for coronavirus vaccines, will be required to continue wearing masks in the fall. Education and public health leaders plan to work together this summer to craft any needed health and safety protocols for September, which could include mask-wearing for the state’s youngest students.

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Graduations

The state separately updated its guidance Thursday for graduation ceremonies, effective Saturday.

One highlight: Based on the venue, graduations will not be subject to capacity limits.

Districts have been asked to keep graduation ceremonies as short as possible and to not offer communal gatherings before or after the ceremony. At indoor ceremonies, mask-wearing will be required, and singing is not allowed.

Read the new guidance

Changes for the 2021-22 academic year

Graduation guidance


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.