Last Friday, the Commissioner of Education provided the latest dose of guidance for school districts as they navigate their way through remote learning for the summer programs. For the fall, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is considering three potential scenarios for how students will return to learning. These options include going back to school in a 100% traditional setting, staying completely remote, or a hybrid option that will consist of both remote and in-person learning. They will be sharing their guidance the week of June 15th with Mass Public Schools.
Unlike prior guidance, School Superintendent Lisa Howard said that she understands that this will likely be more prescriptive information and districts will be told how they are returning so it’s similar across the state. If the Commissioner opts for the hybrid version, classrooms may be broken in half and 50% of the students will attend in-person learning during the same weeks that the other half of the students attend classes remotely, and vice versa. The purpose of the hybrid version would be to keep class sizes small to maintain social distancing. There are lot of things that the schools will need to take into consideration when executing this format of learning. Pairing siblings with the same on/off weeks, dealing with teachers who are high-risk and teaching new health protocols to staff members are some of the many demands that the district is faced with.
“Remote learning across the board is not a preferred way to educate our students,” said Howard. “Nothing can replace the in-person learning, the social-emotional component, the interactions and conversations that you get when you instruct a child in your presence, the benefit of peer interaction and support…. It’s been very difficult for everyone, from students to parents to teachers, we all would like to get back to the traditional form of education, we really miss our students.”
As part of the new guidance, both the DESE and the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) provided a draft on how to enable summer learning with a great deal of guidance on creating safe and healthy educational spaces while social distancing. Special Education extended year programming is scheduled to start in early July in addition to enrichment programs such as Fun at the Fort and 21st Century. Staff members are faced with yet another challenge of having to re-format the summer program to stay in line with new requirements in minimal time. At this time, remote learning will need to continue until school districts can meet all the requirements of safety and compliance in order to open the school buildings.
“The extraordinary amount of planning needed to meet the requirements of the DOE will be difficult, but we are moving forward and we have to be prepared to change things at the drop of a dime. Whenever you have to drastically change an environment with health and safety protocols, it takes time, collaboration, thoughtful reflection, and money. It’s going to be hard to accomplish this prior to the re-opening of schools in the Fall given the short time we have.”
Howard said that while she has witnessed the many challenges that have come from being thrown into remote learning as a district, she has also seen firsthand the collaboration of both staff members in the district and superintendents across the Commonwealth. “The collaboration between teachers and staff has been amazing. We literally have teachers teaching other teachers in the areas that they excel in and superintendents across the Commonwealth have come together to share things that are working. Even though every district has different capabilities, funding, student population and teaching community, we’ve come together to help one another.”