Travelers To Massachusetts Must Self-Quarantine

By SCOTT JACKSON

Starting on July 1, travelers arriving in Massachusetts – including residents returning home – will be instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Travelers from seven northeastern states – Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont – will be exempt from the new rule. Workers designated by the federal government as essential critical infrastructure workers are also exempt from the requirement.

Travelers who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 are asked not to come to Massachusetts.

Visitors are also reminded that masks or face coverings must be worn in public places where individuals cannot socially distance from others.

The announcement by Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday comes as several states in the southern and western parts of the country – including Florida, Texas and California – have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

State To Require 3 Feet Of Separation, Masks For Most Students This Fall

By SCOTT JACKSON

New guidelines will mandate students and staff be spaced at least three feet apart and students in second grade and up will be required to wear masks if Massachusetts schools can re-open in September amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Thursday released a 26-page memo that lays out the initial guidance for school districts to resume in-person learning in the fall.  The memo covers a number of topics, including distancing requirements, masks and personal protective equipment, food service, screening of students and testing for the virus.

DESE will release additional guidance in July that will cover topics such as athletics and transportation.

In-person learning is one of three scenarios districts will need to plan for for the fall. The other scenarios are continued remote learning and a hybrid model, with some students in the classroom and others at home.

The DESE guidance recommends six feet of distance between individuals when feasible but sets a minimum distance requirement of three feet when combined with other safety measures outlined in the memo.

The memo notes that while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a minimum of six feet for social distancing, those guidelines are emphasized when no face coverings or masks are worn.

In addition, the memo notes that the World Health Organization has stated three feet are appropriate for social distancing. Denmark, France, China, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom all recommend one meter, approximately three feet, of distance in their school re-opening plans, according to the DESE.

Students in grades two and up would be required to wear masks and face coverings, while students in kindergarten and first grade would be encouraged to wear masks. The DESE also recommends students be given masks breaks throughout the day. Those breaks should take place when students are able to be six feet apart and would ideally be when students are outside, or at least when windows are open.

The DESE guidance recommends that families be the ones to provide the students with masks, but districts would be required to have extra disposable masks available if needed. The DESE said grant money could be used to provide masks to students whose families are experiencing financial hardship.

Staff members, including teachers, would be required to wear masks. Other personal protective equipment is not required but would be optional depending on need. Teachers, for example, would not need to wear gloves while teaching but may need when making necessary contact with students.

The guidance further recommends that schools divide students into cohorts – small groups of students who would maintain contact with each other throughout the day. There is no maximum size for cohorts, but they would need to comply with the distancing standards.

The guidance further recommends that school districts prepare to serve breakfast and lunch in classrooms as opposed to common areas, including cafeterias. If food is served in the cafeteria, staggered schedules should be used to minimize the mixing of cohorts.

The DESE is not recommending students be screened upon arrival at school – that would be left up to parents – but staff should observe students throughout the day. In-school testing for COVID-19 is also not recommended at this time.

As part of the re-opening plan, each school must also have an isolation space separate from the nurse’s office where students could be sent if they show symptoms of COVID-19. Students would remain there until they could be picked up by a family member.

Massachusetts Sales Tax Holiday Weekend Aug. 29-30

Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced that the annual sales tax-free weekend will take place the weekend of Aug. 29 and 30. This marks the second sales tax holiday held under the new law signed by Baker in 2018 that made the weekend an annual occurrence.

Baker said local businesses, many of which have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, stand to benefit from the tax-free weekend.

“The annual sales tax holiday is an opportunity for us to support small businesses and consumers, and this year, it’s a great way to support our economy that’s been impacted by COVID-19,” the governor said in a statement.

“This pandemic has created enormous challenges for the commonwealth’s small businesses, and the sales tax-free weekend is one way that we can encourage more economic activity to help Main Street businesses and local economies.”

In 2018, Baker signed legislation that makes the annual sales tax holiday permanent. The Department of Revenue today is designating Aug. 29 and 30 as the sales tax holiday under M.G.L. Chapter 64H, Section 6A.

During that weekend, the sales tax will be waived on most items priced under $2,500 with several exceptions. The following items do not apply for the sales tax holiday exemption: meals, motor vehicles, motorboats, telecommunications services, gas, steam, electricity, tobacco products, marijuana and marijuana products, and alcoholic beverages. Layaway sales are not eligible for the sales-tax exemption. Rentals of up to 30 days qualify for the exemption, provided they are not for ineligible items like motor vehicles, and the rental is paid in full during the tax-free weekend.

The exemption applies to both brick and mortar stores and online retailers.

“As the commonwealth continues its phased reopening process, we recognize that many small businesses continue to face difficulties,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We are proud that our administration worked with the legislature to enact legislation making the sales tax holiday permanent and look forward to this year’s tax free weekend and the economic activity that will come with it.”

“We are proud to continue supporting local businesses and consumers as we work with our colleagues in the legislature to navigate the evolving COVID-19 environment while adhering to public health guidelines,” said Secretary for Administration and Finance Michael J. Heffernan. “The upcoming sales tax holiday will be an opportunity for people throughout Massachusetts to help support local companies and generate much needed economic activity.”

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance welcomed Baker’s decisions.

“Though the sales tax holiday was signed into law as a legally required annual occurrence, the current pandemic certainly cast some uncertainty on whether retailers would actually see it happen. Governor Baker did the right thing by setting the date early and allowing businesses time to prepare,” said Paul Craney, a spokesman for the group.

“Retailers have been hit especially hard by this pandemic. With any luck, the sales tax holiday will begin the healing process for them and start bringing back customers who have grown accustomed to traveling out of state to make their purchases.

“If we’re really serious about jumpstarting this sector of our economy, serious consideration should be given to expanding the sales tax holiday and extending it to meals as a boost for our struggling restaurants. Other states are serious about getting these sectors of their economies moving again, it’s time for Massachusetts to join them.”

Committee Resolve: No Unfunded Mandates For School Re-Opening

By SCOTT JACKSON

The School Committee does not want state officials to hand down any unfunded mandates to districts when final guidelines for re-opening schools in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic are issued.

The committee on June 10 unanimously approved a resolution urging state officials not to create any unfunded mandates when putting the new rules in place. During the meeting, committee members described the state’s initial guidelines for re-opening as “prohibitive,” “nuts” and “impossible” to meet.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is in the process of putting together guidelines for schools to re-open in the fall. Initial guidelines released by the state on June 5 would require students in all grade levels to be spaced six feet apart and would limit the number of people in a given room to ten children and two teachers.

The memo from the state also included guidance for districts to purchase masks for students based on 100 percent attendance, 50 percent attendance and 25 percent attendance, suggesting school systems might have to rotate students in and out of buildings.

School Committee Vice Chairman Anthony Andronico, who co-authored the resolution with School Committee colleague Kathryn Hubley, said the initial guidelines from the state are prohibitive. He said districts across the state would not have the personnel or the room to meet the requirements.

“It’s prohibitive. It’s impossible to do. If every school district had to do this, I don’t know where that money is going to come from, I don’t know where those teachers are going to come from, I don’t know where that space is going to come from,” Andronico said.

“The resolution before you essentially asks the state to not put forward any unfunded mandates related to the guidelines for COVID-19. Quincy Public Schools is in a good position now, however, if these guidelines go into place, I don’t know exactly what re-opening schools and having students would look like,” Andronico added.

“I’ve discussed this issue with many other school committee’s members, as well as the MASC Division 3 chair,” Hubley said. “She informed me that at least 20 other school committees are in the process of developing resolutions of their own.”

No personnel cuts are expected in the Quincy Public Schools next school year despite the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Other districts have had to make cuts. Weymouth, for instance, will not renew the contracts of more than 100 educators next year.

“At a time when a lot of neighboring districts are furloughing staff, cutting expenses and essentially desperate for revenue, I don’t think it is right the state is going to come in during that time period and say, ‘by the way, you also need to double your staff, purchase more building space or rent more building space so you can house them, or enter into additional collective bargaining agreements for an extended school day,’” Andronico said.

“I think it is important that they get the message that we not have any unfunded mandates when it comes to re-opening schools however they chose to do so.”

Mayor Thomas Koch said the guidelines were unrealistic and was concerned about students missing more time in the classroom than they already have. He also noted that COVID-19 has little to no impact on the school-age population.

“I think it is foolhardy for us to be going down this road of thinking we can do split shifts, having x amount of square feet per kid. It’s nut and I think we have just got to call it that,” Koch said.

“I’m not minimizing the medical community – I know there are experts on this – but no one has yet shown me how this population has been affected by it. Are they transmitters potentially? Yes, they are. We’ve learned who is susceptible in society and we have to make sure they are safe. Perhaps the kids have to stay away from grandma when they are in school – I don’t know, but if we lose another semester or year, these kids are never going to catch up on some of this stuff.”

Committee member Emily Lebo said the social and emotional needs of students cannot be met through remote learning. In addition, she said the state’s rules do not consider how they would affect parents.

“I’ve heard of kids who cry every day because they cannot go to school. The social and emotional kick on this is crazy, and to continue it is a huge mistake,” Lebo said. “The other thing I worry about [with] those split shifts is how does a parent work? What if one kid has a different shift than the other kid has?”

Committee member Paul Bregoli said it would be impossible to meet the state’s initial guidelines.

“I think we have a lot of idealists and not many realists who are telling us what to do,” he said. “What they are asking us to do is impossible. For us to continue down this path is going to lead to a whole lost year as the mayor said.”

If students cannot return to the classroom in September, Bregoli said they might never be able to recover.

“Anyone who has been in the classroom knows that from June to September, in those summer months, kids lose [some] of what they learn, and teachers would spend that first month reviewing what previously was taught,” Bregoli said. “We’ve been out since March, and I fear that if we don’t get back in September, our kids are going to be in a situation that they are not going to be able to recover from.

“They need to look at a legitimate risk assessment so that we can put our kids at ease, our parents at ease and our staff at ease, so we can…get back to school the way it should be.”

 

Quincy Graduations July 24, 25 At Veterans Memorial Stadium

By SCOTT JACKSON

Quincy school officials have chosen the dates for the ceremonies to honor graduates of the city’s two high schools this summer at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

North Quincy High School’s graduation ceremony will be held on Friday, July 24, beginning at 6 p.m. Quincy High School’s graduation ceremonies will take place the following day, Saturday, July 25, at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The contingency dates for the ceremonies are Monday through Wednesday, July 27 to 29, all at 6 p.m.

The graduation ceremonies had been scheduled for next week, but they were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Under new guidelines issued by the state in late May, in-person graduation ceremonies will not be allowed until Sunday, July 19, at the earliest, and must be held outdoors. The state’s guidelines also include standards to protect the health of those in attendance.

There are 280 members of the graduating class at North Quincy High School, and Deputy Superintendent Kevin Mulvey said he was confident there was enough room inside the stadium to hold each graduate on the field and two family members in the seats.

Quincy High School has 380 graduates, however, and there would not be enough room in the stands to accommodate all of their guests. As a result, the class will be divided into two groups of 190 each. Mulvey said they would likely be divided by name.

Students from each school will be required to provide the names of their two guests in advance. Each guest would receive a ticket to enter the stadium.

“We would have to require, based on guidance from the state, that we maintain a manifest where we check-in all preregistered as guests as they come in,” Mulvey said. “That is an additional complicating factor, but certainly something that is doable.”

Each student will be receiving a letter from the school system explaining the new rules for the graduation ceremonies. Students will be asked to respond to the letter to indicate whether or not they plan to attend and, if they plan on attending, to identify the two family members they want to attend.

School Committee member Emily Lebo said she believed the city would be able to hold the graduations successfully next month.

“I feel confident that we will be able to do this,” she said.

Committee Vice Chairman Anthony Andronico thanked Mulvey and school officials for their efforts to plan the ceremonies.

“I know there were some stops and starts with planning and new guidelines and some adjustments that were made along the way, but I believe we finally have it right,” he said.

The School Committee has been discussing plans for this year’s graduation ceremonies since April. School officials had initially said they would hold virtual ceremonies next week on the original graduation dates but left open the possibility of an in-person event later in the summer. More than 2,000 people signed a petition in early May asking for the graduation ceremonies to be moved to a later date in the summer in lieu of the virtual ceremonies.

The school system still plans to release senior tribute videos next week on the original graduation dates.

The state guidelines for graduation ceremonies allows them to be held outdoors starting July 19, provided public health data supports doing so. The ceremonies must be kept as brief as possible.

The guidelines limit attendance to graduates and members of their immediate family only. Pre-registration would be required and only those who register would be allowed to attend. Children under the age of 5, older adults and those with vulnerable health conditions are discouraged from attending.

The state guidelines also require that attendees who are not immediate family members sit six feet apart; immediate family members could sit next to each other. Graduates would also need to be spaced six feet apart.

Plans must also be in place to ensure orderly entrance and exit from the stadium. Communal gatherings would not be allowed before or after the ceremony. That means graduates would not be able to pose for photographs after the ceremony like they traditionally do.

Everyone in attendance would be required to wear masks, except those who cannot do so because of a medical condition. Those who speak at the ceremony would be allowed to remove their mask when addressing the audience.

The guidelines recommend graduates walk across the stage individually and adjust their tassels in lieu of receiving their diplomas. Diplomas could still be handed out in a safe way, however, such as placing it on a table for a graduate to pick up. Hugging and hand shaking would not be allowed.