The end of the COVID-19 pandemic draws nearer as vaccinations roll out and case numbers drop. With these developments, people are moving closer to semblances of normalcy. Recently, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s administration announced that it is moving forward with returning schools to in-person learning full-time. Officials have given Education Commissioner Jeff Riley authority to enforce the three-phase reopening process. As each phase takes effect, current hybrid and remote learning models will no longer count towards a student’s required hours of learning. The phases are broken down by school level:


Phase One: Elementary Schools

Kindergarten through fifth grades will be required to shift back to full-time in-person learning as of Monday, April 5th, 2021.


Phase Two: Middle Schools

Sixth through eighth grades will be required to shift back to full-time in-person learning as of Wednesday, April 28th, 2021.


Phase Three: High Schools

Ninth through twelfth grades do not have a required date to shift back to full-time in-person learning. Plans for this return will be announced during April. High schools will have at least two weeks of notice before the expected return date, but schools and districts should begin planning.


These phases are flexible, of course. The Massachusetts Department of Education will work with school districts and health officials to monitor the reopening, and if key metrics are negatively affected, adaptations will be made for everyone’s health and safety.


While the goal is to return everyone to a full in-person learning as it was before the pandemic, there are a few exceptions that will still provide alternate learning methods. If parents or guardians wish to keep their children home, they are allowed to continue to learn remotely for the remainder of the year.


Another and more obvious exception is if a student is affected by COVID-19. If a student is infected or in quarantine due to exposure, schools must allow the student to learn remotely even if he or she is traditionally following the full-time in-person schedule. Because of this, it is recommended that school districts follow a livestream style of teaching so students can access coursework remotely.


Teachers and staff are now at the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccines, and success in pooled testing, which more can be learned about here, will help make the return to full-time in-person learning even safer.


Detailed guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Education can be downloaded from their website here, and OccuMed is prepared to assist with the preparation of plans and execution of testing programs.