Massachusetts Department of Education urges 16 school districts in ‘low-risk’ COVID-19 communities to return to in-person learning

The Massachusetts Department of Education is pressuring 16 communities and school districts, which the state deemed “low risk” COVID-19 areas, to return to in-person learning.

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In a letter signed by the Department of Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, the agency said its guidelines only recommend remote learning for communities designated as “high risk.” The letter was sent to 16 communities that the state deemed low risk who continue to exclusively offer remote learning.

“In light of the stark discrepancy between local public health data and your reopening plan, I am requesting a timeline by which you anticipate providing in-person instruction for the majority of your students including in-person instruction for vulnerable populations,” Riley said in the letter.

The 16 communities and school districts included:

Amesbury

Belmont

Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public (District)

Bourne

Boxford

East Longmeadow

Gardner

Gill-Montague

Hoosac Valley Regional

Manchester Essex Regional

Mohawk Trail

Hawlemont

Pittsfield

Provincetown

Watertown

West Springfield

In the letter, Riley cited Massachusetts as one of the states with sufficiently low test positivity rates that meet World Health Organization standards for reopening.

Last week, the two-week test positivity rate in Massachusetts as reported by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) is at 0.9%, well below the threshold of 5% established by WHO, the letter said.

The districts and communities that received the letter have fallen into the green or gray color code, which indicates low COVID-19 transmissions.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released reopening guidance on June 25 that stated, “There is a clear consensus from both education and medical groups: we must keep in mind not only the risks associated with COVID-19 for in-person school programs, but also the known challenges and consequences of keeping students out of school.”

Communities are expected to respond to the Department of Education within 10 days. Riley said the district’s responses could prompt an audit to assess efforts to provide in-person instruction and to ensure remote learning programs are consistent with the state’s guidelines.

“I know we share a goal of providing access to a high-quality education for all students,” Riley said in the letter. “I look forward to working together to ensure as many students as possible can benefit from safe, in-person instruction this school year.”

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