Massachusetts education officials are putting pressure on schools in 16 low-risk coronavirus communities to bring students back into the classroom, demanding a timeline within 10 days.
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley sent a letter to the districts Friday, taking issue with the “stark discrepancy” between local public health data and their reopening plans.
All 16 districts have consistently received a designation of green or gray in the state’s color-coded community-level risk assessment map, Riley noted, which indicates less than five cases per 100,000 people. The state is only recommending remote learning for communities with a “red” designation three weeks in a row.
“Given your community’s designation of green or gray, I am concerned that the school committee has voted to keep most students learning remotely for the start of the 2020-21 school year,” Riley wrote, citing state guidelines that prioritize a return to in-person learning “for as many students as possible, safely.”
Impacted School Districts
- East Longmeadow
- West Springfield
- Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public (District)
- Hoosac Valley Regional
- Mohawk Trail/Hawlemont
- Manchester Essex Regional
- Mohawk Trail
Riley gave the 16 school districts until Friday, Oct. 2, to respond to the state with a timeline on when in-person classes will resume for the majority of their students. He noted that the responses from the districts could trigger an audit to assess efforts to implement in-person instruction and to ensure that their remote learning programs are consistent with state guidelines.
The commissioner also cited data reported by Johns Hopkins University that continues to find Massachusetts as one of the states with sufficiently low test positivity rates to meet World Health Organization standards for reopening. As of Sept. 16, the two-week test positivity rate in Massachusetts as reported by the state Department of Public Health is at 0.9%, below the threshold of 5% established by WHO.