Initial Fall Guidance for Schools and a Summer Programming Status Update
June 26, 2020
We hope that you and your families are enjoying this beautiful weather during our school vacation period. We are writing to provide you an update from the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
Initial Fall Guidance: Yesterday, as you may be aware, Governor Baker and DESE released their initial guidance about fall programming (which at Milestones is scheduled to begin after Labor Day). Today Milestones participated in a meeting with DESE to review this initial guidance. We applaud the level of thought and care that went into developing and delivering this initial guidance, which reflected an integral collaboration with infectious disease specialists, pediatricians, and input from a multidisciplinary statewide task force that included both parent representation and special education advocacy. We are pleased to share that the guidance prioritizes the safe return to in-person instruction for students this fall, with recognition that in-person instruction offers the optimal environment for students’ academic programming, services, and social and emotional wellness.
DESE shared that more specific and detailed fall guidance will be issued later this summer, and schools have been informed that we must be prepared to shift or pivot with our planning if COVID-related circumstances change and/or as additional statewide guidance evolves.
The full initial return to school guidance (dated 6/25/20) from DESE regarding fall programming is available at: http://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/ and a briefer press release is available at: https://mailchi.mp/doe.mass.edu/press-release-dese-releases-initial-back-to-school-guidance.
A helpful summary of this guidance and rationale was also delivered at Governor Baker’s press conference yesterday (6/25/20) along with Commissioner Jeff Riley and health and medical advisors and can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGkn0y0m0VU.
A sample of key highlights from the initial fall return to school guidelines include:
Beginning in the fall DESE is aiming to return as many students as possible to in-person learning in order to meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. (The overall 25% restricted student capacity and within-classroom capacity restrictions that are in place for summer programming, do not presently apply for the fall).
Current medical research supports a safe in-person return to school with preventative measures in place as infection and transmission rates have been found to be lower for children than adults.
Preventative measures including the continued expectation of mask use for staff and students in grades 2 and above, physical distancing, diligent hygiene practices including frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, increased cleaning and disinfection measures, and cohesive groupings to the degree that is feasible and appropriate, will continue this fall as integral mitigation practices.
Based on current medical research, and in conjunction with other preventative measures, a minimum of physical distance of 3 feet has been established for the set-up of fall programming (whereas the initial summer guidelines require a physical distance of 6 feet for planning purposes in July and August).
Schools will be required to develop three separate plans for DESE approval for fall programming including: (1) students returning to full in-person instruction that meets the established health and safety requirements, (2) the creation of a hybrid model that combines in-person and remote learning in the event that full capacity is not feasible, and (3) a model for full remote learning that can be reverted to in the event that COVID prevalence requires a return to remote instruction or potentially as an alternative for families who may not opt for their students to receive in person instruction this fall. Based upon the current medical status in MA, the goal is that students will return to full in-person instruction this fall with preventative measures in place; however, this is subject to change based upon how the medical situation develops at the State level and locally and based upon feasibility studies that will be conducted both at the State and individual school level.
Our task force at Milestones will continue to meet consistently this summer to extend upon the preparations we have already put into place and to diligently establish plans for these 3 scenarios in accordance with DESE’s timeline and expectations. DESE acknowledges that there continue to be unresolved questions and matters for consideration regarding fall programming that will become clearer throughout the summer, and therefore, we will keep families posted of any new information and developments as it becomes available.
Summer Programming Status: As we shared before school vacation, Milestones’ task force has been very actively and efficiently preparing for our restricted capacity onsite summer instruction. In addition, since school vacation began, our Executive leadership has continued our involvement and planning with the Massachusetts Association of 766 Approved Private Schools (maaps) reentry planning task force; team members have continued professional development and policy related activities through a COVID management certification course, nursing professional development initiatives, and collaboration with our external consultants, and we have extended our building preparations including replacing all of our sinks throughout the school with contactless faucets. As of today, however, DESE has still not yet released their final comprehensive guidelines to schools for summer programming, which will include any remaining mandated requirements (e.g., further training, building preparations, policies, and/or health and safety practices) that will need to be implemented by schools prior to beginning onsite instruction this summer. Milestones’ plan remains the same that our internal reentry task force will meet to review DESE’s final forthcoming comprehensive guidelines for summer programming when we return from school vacation, upon which we’ll be able to confirm a safe and feasible start date for our onsite instruction to parents and districts (i.e., which may be able to begin as early as the week of July 13th, contingent on the reasonable implementation and attestation of the forthcoming guidelines).
Stay Tuned – Policy Forms For All Parents/Guardians To Complete For Students’ Onsite Participation This Summer: To assist with your planning, we wanted to notify you that there will be a set of permission and health-related forms in light of COVID-19 that will be required to be completed and returned for all students in order for them to be permitted to participate in onsite instruction this summer. Typically we aim for parents/guardians to have a much longer period of time to review and complete any consent-related paperwork; however, the turnaround time for these materials will necessarily be briefer as we are awaiting final guidance. We intend to share these required forms and expectations with you the week of July 6th, through multiple methods including a school wide email with attachments, hard copy versions of the forms by mail, posted electronic forms on the COVID communication page of our website, and a reminder from your case manager. We appreciate your collaboration toward helping your students return to campus!
Thank you for your attention, and we hope that you have a great vacation period with your families. We’ll look forward to reconnecting with you and your students the week of July 6th.