Health and Safety Updates from our Reentry Task Force and DESE for June – August
June 4, 2021
This week Milestones has numerous updates from our Reentry Task Force that pertain to health and safety information for the remainder of the school year and this summer. This includes select updates to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s COVID-19 policies within schools (DESE). DESE confirmed that schools will not be issued separate health and safety guidance for our summer programming, and therefore, we are encouraged to extend this school year’s State guidance in July-August.
- 1) DESE Policy Change: Contact Tracing Guidelines: On 6/1/21, DESE issued a policy update to schools specifying that the Department of Public Health (DPH) updated contact tracing guidelines. Now if one is exposed to COVID-19, only indoor time will be attributable to being identified as a close contact (ex: within 6 feet, while indoors, for 15+ minutes in a 24 hour period during the period of infectiousness). Outdoor time will not count, given that the CDC has found that individuals are less likely to be exposed to COVID-19 while outdoors, even without masks.
- 2) DESE Policy Change: Updated Outdoor Mask Guidance for Faculty: Although DESE recently updated their outdoor mask policy for schools on 5/18/21 they revised their guidance again on 5/29/21 to account for full vaccination status among faculty. The updated guidance now specifies that: “fully vaccinated educators do not have to wear masks when outdoors and unvaccinated educators are encouraged to wear masks when outdoors, in alignment with the state mask advisory.” There were no changes for students’ outdoor mask guidelines.
- 3) Outdoor Mask Clarification for Students: Students Will Not Have to Wear Masks Outdoors On Campus Including During Sports: Our faculty have been doing an excellent job role-modeling safety expectations and navigating the changes to guidelines. This week a follow-up question was raised among staff about whether students should be required to wear masks outside if they are playing in close proximity such as during a sport. Our Task Force has clarified that this is no longer required, moving forward. DESE has contemplated this situation, and their guidance explains that students do not need to wear masks outdoors even when distance is not able to be maintained, and this guidance broadly applies to: “recess, physical education, youth sports, and outdoor learning environments.” Please note that the only exception that Milestones foresees to this practice will be related to approved offsite programming such as field trips, where we may implement stricter guidelines for risk reduction in the community. Expectations for participants regarding mask use will be previewed with faculty, students, and families in advance.
- 4) DESE Policy Change: Shared Objects are Permitted: On 5/17/21, after consulting with the MA Covid Command Center’s Medical Advisory Board, Governor Baker announced that given the low likelihood of surface transmission of COVID-19, schools no longer have to prohibit the use of shared items. This includes: classroom materials, items for physical education, or art supplies. Our Task Force has taken extra time to review plans for implementing this change, including reconfirming plans for cleaning/disinfection that exceed State guidelines. Students will still be discouraged from sharing individual items (ex: fidgets, personal items that may break) and will continue to be reminded about the importance of proper distancing and hand washing/sanitizing.
- 5) Visitor Policy Regarding Admissions: Milestones has maintained a restricted Visitor Policy for the 2020-2021 school year. Current restrictions will continue this summer, with the exception of one change. Moving forward, we will permit select approved visits during the school day for students and families participating in our Admissions process who have progressed in our process. Specific health and safety guidelines will apply: (1) the completion of Visitor Health attestation forms, (2) indoor mask use, (3) restricting visits to be no more than 2 adults with each prospective student, and (4) thoughtful planning toward classroom capacity/appropriate distancing.
- 6) Minimum Distance Requirements This Summer: Throughout the school year, Massachusetts has advised that 3 feet of social distance is appropriate for risk reduction in schools, but Milestones has maintained a minimum of 6 feet of social distance. Starting in July, Milestones will accept a minimum distance of 3 feet in classrooms. Please note that this also follows DESE’s prior update to quarantine requirements for close contacts, which specifies that close contacts whose exposure only occurs in a classroom or on a bus while both parties are masked do not need to quarantine unless they are within (less than) 3 feet of an individual who tests positive for COVID-19 for 15+ minutes in a 24 hour period.
- 7) Cohorts: Grouping students into cohorts continues to be recommended. Students can expect that this summer we will continue to pair designated cohorts for socialization during recess/leisure time similar to what was permitted to begin this spring (ex: typically 2 classes will be permitted to socialize together but to restrict group size).
- 8) Offsite Programming with Parent/Guardian Consent: During Senior Week this month, 12th graders have been invited to participate in select offsite programming with permission from their parents/guardians. Later this month, parents/guardians across grade levels will receive information about your student’s summer programming. Given the improved rates of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, this will include the opportunity for us to pilot one offsite field trip for each group of students as an incremental step forward (with permission from parents/guardians). Please stay tuned for further details.
- 9) Transportation: In February, DESE updated their transportation guidelines to lift physical distancing and capacity requirements except for select programs in areas that have a high incidence of COVID-19. Mask use and keeping windows open at least 2 inches have remained required. To assist with community based instruction, starting this month Milestones is becoming more flexible with our school van’s guidelines. We will permit up to 4 students with 1 adult in 1 van, while exceeding DESE’s guidelines for cleaning and disinfection.
- 10) Student Kitchen Use: Starting this month, we are permitting usage of our student kitchen for 1:1 programming (ex: student’s IEP goals, individualized incentive plans).
Thank you for taking time to review these progressive updates. We’re so pleased that our broader community continues to move in a very positive and healthy direction. As always, please do not hesitate to outreach to us if you have any follow-up questions, and we appreciate your ongoing collaboration and support!
Have a great weekend,