DESE pushes full return to classrooms



In a push to phase out remote learning in Massachusetts schools,  the Department of Education recently ordered all elementary students back to school  full time, in person, by April 5th,  and middle school students  full time by April 28.  The date for high school full return will be announced in April.

More than 80 percent of Massachusetts school districts have introduced some kind of in-person learning with safety protocols, yet this still leaves close to 400,000 students with school completely virtual.  

“At some point, as health metrics continue to improve, we will need to take the remote and hybrid learning models off the table and return to a traditional school format,” Education Commissioner Riley said. 

These plans have raised many questions and concerns throughout the community. One major concern is how schools will be able to bring all students back, and still maintain 3 feet of social distancing. 

Gloucester High School has been successfully operating in a hybrid model all year, with students attending school four days a week, at 3 feet of distance.   It is unclear how GHS will accommodate for double the students, without double the space. 

Various factors such as Covid transmission and vaccinations, transportation, students wellbeing, and district equity and adaptability all have to be considered in continuing to open the schools, leaving schools scrambling to make plans before the deadlines. 

“It sounds to me like, once again, we are being punished for doing a good job,”  said School Committee Chairperson Jonathan Pope at the March 10th public meeting. 

Other School Committee members also voiced concerns.

“I can sense your frustration and the frustration from other administrators. People who don’t have their boots on the ground making decisions without having a sense of what it takes,”  said Samantha Verga Watson.  “I feel for you, and I recognize how difficult this is going to be, and I’m saddened that that’s likely going to take away from the good work that’s being done already. But I understand how important it is to get the kids in more.”

Gloucester Teachers Association Vice President Rachel Rex expressed some concerns with changing the way that Gloucester Schools have been operating thus far. 

“Folks have been managing in this model all year long.  It hasn’t been ideal, but students are definitely learning and growing in the current hybrid schedule in the Gloucester Public Schools,” said Rex. “Changing this current schooling model for roughly one term, one quarter of the school year, doesn’t make sense to me.  Making a change that late in the school year may actually create more issues than it solves.”

This emphasizes a popular concern- that this plan is a rushed attempt to do away with online schooling. But, Riley ensures that this process will be in collaboration with state officials and medical professionals to ensure a smooth shift. 

Understanding that moving to a full in-person model will be a difficult task, there will also be a waiver option for some districts so that the transition happens more slowly. “They won’t be very generous with waivers,” said Superintendent of Gloucester Schools Ben Lummis. “They are very clear that any waivers they give will be temporary.”

Parents will still have the option to keep their children in the remote learning option through the end of the school year. 

“As we have been all year, we will be thoughtful and deliberate in figuring out what this new guidance means for our schools, our staff, and our families,” Lummis said. “At each school and across the district, we will make good choices that help our school community move forward.”