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Most Elementary Schools In Massachusetts Return To Full-Time, In-Person Learning

BOSTON (CBS) - Most elementary school students in Massachusetts returned to class Monday for full time, in-person learning.

With some exceptions, all elementary schools were required to return to in-person learning April 5. The state has granted 58 school districts waivers, including Boston and Worcester, to start at a later date.

According to the state's Department of Education, 930 elementary schools across Massachusetts went back fully in-person Monday.

Schools have had to adjust schedules for social distancing and add desks to classrooms, now just three feet apart instead of six to meet updated state guidelines.

There is concern about an increase in COVID cases in schools across the state. As of last week, there were 1,045 in total, including 801 students and 244 staff. It's the fourth week in a row school cases have risen.

"In my opinion, nothing is zero risk, but the risk of opening the schools and doing it with the appropriate mitigation strategies, the risks of that are less than the consequences of keeping kids out of school," said Dr. Christina Hermos, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

Dr. Hermos is basing that opinion on models around the world that have opened schools safely during the pandemic, including some in Massachusetts.

"The rule of thumb should be schools should be the last to close and the first to open. Over and over we're seeing that not happening. We're walking by crowded restaurants and gyms. It's really time to stop punishing the kids for a disease that they are not the drivers of," Dr. Hermos told WBZ-TV.

Morse Elementary School in Cambridge started gradually welcoming students back last October. On Monday, roughly 80% of students were expected to come to school.

"Every time that we've had the opportunity to welcome more kids to the building safely has been really exciting for all of us," said Principal Chad Leith.

Parent Evan Sussman said, "The school has done a great job, they've been incredibly communicative, held a million Zoom meetings. It's just great to have the kids feel like more back to normal I think."

Close to 70% of elementary school students in the Cambridge district are headed into classrooms.

"It's an increase from what we've previously seen," said Superintendent Kenneth Salim. "I think reflects families becoming more comfortable with the different safety precautions that we're doing in our schools.:

"I was a little nervous at first, but now I'm feeling great and ready to see my friends," explained second-grader Simon Barney.

Parents do have the option to keep their children home learning remotely for the rest of the school year.

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