It looks like students are most likely returning to school in the fall.

In a statement addressed to Andover Public School students and their families, Superintendent Sheldon Berman announced that Gov. Charlie Baker and Jeffrey Riley, the commissioner of The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, “announce(d) initial guidance for districts across Massachusetts to re-open schools for the 2020-21 school year.”

Details for how schools should plan the re-opening process were outlined in a report DESE released last week, called “Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance.”

The aim? To bring back as many students as possible.

“Our goal for the fall is to safely bring back as many students as possible to in-person school settings, to maximize learning and address our students’ holistic needs,” Riley wrote in the report.

Berman said a public forum about Andover schools' fall re-opening is planned for later in the summer.

All districts and schools in the state are required to submit three different fall reopening plans to DESE by August.

The first is an in-person learning model that would bring all students back to school at once with new safety requirements. The second plan would include a hybrid learning model in which students would alternate between in-person and remote learning, perhaps on a weekly basis. The third plan is a re-opening model that would be entirely online.

“Districts and schools must be prepared to be flexible and ready to pivot if circumstances change significantly,” Riley wrote. “For this reason, districts and schools must plan not only for in-person learning, but also hybrid models …and also full remote learning.”

Riley stated that based on the available medical literature “the rate of in-school transmission is low.”

“At this time, the evidence suggests schools have not played a significant role in COVID-19 transmission and that children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19. Furthermore, if they become infected, it appears children may be less likely to transmit COVID-19 to others,” the report said.

Riley has left it up to families to decide whether their children should return to school buildings or not.

“Families, in consultation with their medical providers, will ultimately make the decision as to whether their children will attend in-person instruction, or whether their children will continue with remote learning,” wrote Riley.

Families are also responsible for taking the temperature of their children before sending them to school in the morning.

“Screening procedures are not required at the point of entry to the school,” the report said. Later adding, “…temperature checks are not recommended as screening for all students due to the high likelihood of potential false positive and false negative results.”

If students return to school in the fall, there will be new health and safety requirements including:

* Mask enforcement for students in second grade and above, as well as all faculty and staff. Masks must be provided by the families, but the schools will have extras if necessary

* Social distancing requirements of a minimum of 3 feet. The report states that while the CDC recommends a 6-foot separation, the World Health Organization has recommended 3 feet. So in ideal school setting circumstances, students should stand 6 feet apart and when that is not feasible students should stay 3 feet apart

* All students, faculty and staff are required to wash or sanitize their hands upon arrival at school, before eating, before putting on and taking off masks and before dismissal

In addition, DESE is asking schools to separate desks 6 feet apart in classrooms. And if necessary, schools should consider using their libraries, cafeterias and auditoriums as classrooms in order to reduce class size and/or enable additional distancing.

More information regarding the re-opening process statewide is expected to be released by DESE in July.


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