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Schools Have 'More Than Enough Time' To Prepare For Return To In-Person Learning, Riley Says

BOSTON (CBS) -- This week Massachusetts informed elementary and middle schools that they face April deadlines for returning to in-person learning on a full-time basis. Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley joined CBSN Boston Wednesday morning to discuss the timeline and respond to criticisms about moving too fast amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Elementary schools will be required to have "full-time, in-person instruction five days per week" starting Monday, April 5. Middle schools will have to do the same by Wednesday, April 28.

"We think a month is more than enough time to get people ready to move back to school," Riley said.

He said Massachusetts school administrators and teachers all received training at the beginning of the school year and were asked to prepare for in-person, remote and hybrid learning, "so they already have kind of the skeletal outlines of a plan."

What happens if there are positive coronavirus tests at school?

"Learning will continue," Riley said. "We will do contact tracing, isolate whatever kids need to be home on quarantine, continue to provide them an education remotely, while the rest of the school continues on."

Crowded schools in urban areas that are currently in remote learning are likely to get a waiver so that they can begin with hybrid learning instead, Riley said.

A date for full-time in-person learning has not yet been set for high schools. Riley was asked if it will be worth forcing high schools to change their plans so close to the end of the school year.

school return dates
(WBZ-TV graphic)

"We think that any amount of time is precious for our kids to be back in school," he said. "We've seen the damage that's been caused by our kids out of school, particularly on their social emotional health."

The reopening plan is opposed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, even though the state is opening COVID vaccine appointments up to educators on Thursday.

"This guidance reflects an arrogant, top down, one size fits all view that the department knows better than educators, parents, and local school committees and quite frankly that they know better than the CDC," MTA President Merrie Najimy told WBZ.

The union says it wants kids in the classroom, but not through a state mandate.

Families will still have the option to have their child learn remotely until the end of the school year. School districts can also apply for a waiver from DESE.

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