Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that the state is planning to return elementary school students to full in-person learning five days a week in April.
Baker said there have been social, emotional, and mental repercussions due to prolonged remote learning.
“Kids want to be in school learning alongside their friends, classmates and peers. They want to have a chance to engage their teachers in person,” Baker said. “It’s time to set our sights on eliminating remote learning.”
Education commissioner Jeff Riley will ask the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for permission next month to instruct school districts to offer five-day a week in person classes for all students.
A return to in-person learning will be a phased approach with elementary schools first, followed by middle schools, and possibly high schools. Schools that can’t comply will be given a waiver option.
Parents will have the option to have their children remain remote through the end of the school year.
“Starting with elementary students is common sense as there is widespread agreement in the medical community that younger students are less likely to contract the virus and to transmit it,” Riley said. “Elementary students are also easier to cohort, and from an educational perspective, these are some of the students that are struggling the most developmentally and with remote learning.”
When asked about teachers being vaccinated, Riley said due to social distancing requirements, mask-wearing, and other measures, in-person learning at schools have not caused outbreaks of COVID-19.
Massachusetts moved educators in early education and K-12 up on its priority list for COVID-19 vaccines. Educators are first in line to be vaccinated after the current phase of those 65 and older and those with two or more chronic health conditions.
Currently, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School is in a hybrid four-block model with a fully remote day on Friday which consists of eight shorter blocks. For the hybrid model, the general student population is split into two separate cohorts. On Monday and Tuesday, the first cohort is learning in-person, while the second cohort is learning remotely. On Wednesday and Thursday, that schedule alternates, and the second cohort learns in-person. Friday consists of an all-remote day with eight blocks, including a mentor meeting for each student. Flex period and lunch blocks are in the middle of the day for each schedule.
Island schools are on break this week, and there was no immediate response from school officials on how the governor’s plan would be implemented. The district has implemented a COVID-19 testing program aimed at allowing more in-person instruction. The Martha’s Vineyard public schools have tested 5,239 individuals. Of those three have tested positive. The public school data is updated once a week.
Nine new cases Tuesday
The Martha’s Vineyard boards of health reported nine new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday — eight from the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and one from the public school testing program.
There was also one new probable case Tuesday for a total of 55 since March.
The hospital has conducted 13,680 tests for COVID-19 since March. Of those, 653 have tested positive, 13,026 negative, and one is pending results. One patient is currently hospitalized for COVID-19.
As of Friday, TestMV has conducted 33,245 tests since June. Of those, 253 have tested positive, 32,380 negative, and 612 are pending results.
The town of Aquinnah has conducted 428 tests, of which one has come back positive, 418 negative and nine pending results.
The Martha’s Vineyard public schools have tested 5,239 individuals. Of those four have tested positive. The public school data is updated once a week on Monday, but Tuesday new cases was not reported Monday.
There are 34 active cases on the Island, according to an expanded Friday report from the boards of health — a decline from 36 active cases the previous week.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has reported a total of seven positive cases of COVID-19.
Due to how tests are conducted, there can be a discrepancy between the number of positive individuals and the number of positive tests reported.
On the vaccine front, the hospital has administered a total of 3,336 first dose vaccines and a total of 1,135 second dose vaccines.
Reporter Lucas Thors contributed to this story.