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.

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