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Mass. Schools To Close For Remainder Of School Year Due To Coronavirus

Two students wait as physical education teacher Evelyn Oquendo holds up learning packets, asking how many they will need for the household, for children to do school work online. Salem Public Schools is  delivering "grab-and-go" style breakfast and lunch to all children under the age of 18 at designated areas around the city. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Two students wait as physical education teacher Evelyn Oquendo holds up learning packets, asking how many they will need for the household, for children to do school work online. Salem Public Schools is delivering "grab-and-go" style breakfast and lunch to all children under the age of 18 at designated areas around the city. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Students will not return to their classrooms this school year.

Gov. Charlie Baker made the announcement Tuesday at his daily press conference about state responses related to the coronavirus outbreak. Non-emergency childcare programs will remain closed through June 29. Residential special education schools are exempt.

"At this point in time, there is no authoritative guidance or advisories with respect to how to operate schools safely and how to get kids to and from schools safely," Baker said in announcing the closure extension.

With the order Tuesday, Baker followed the lead of 34 other states, including Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, according to a tally by Education Week.

"This has been an unprecedented interruption to an entire generation of students," state education Commissioner Jeff Riley said. "We want to minimize learning loss as much as possible."

Many parents and educators have quietly assumed for weeks that such a measure was inevitable, given its widespread adoption elsewhere and the fact that — on a per capita basis — Massachusetts, by some counts, had suffered the nation’s fifth-highest number of deaths related to the virus as of Tuesday morning.

State education officials plan to issue more guidance this week on remote learning.

"We have a long way to go to make remote learning work smoothly for our students, and we're committed to doing that," Riley said.

Riley said the state would be working with parents, teachers, school leaders and health professionals to determine how schools could reopen, eventually. He said it was "too early" to make a determination about summer school.

"[What] we've seen from other countries that have started the process of opening are things: like temperature checking students, keeping desks six feet apart from students, some people have staggered schedules," Riley said. "There are many possibilities."

In early March, as the virus gained its foothold in Massachusetts, district superintendents complained that the slow response of state officials forced them to close their school buildings unilaterally and with little guidance or planning.

Urged on by mayors and the state’s largest teachers’ union, Baker finally announced a three-week closure on March 15. Ten days later, he extended that closure through May 4 — but not through the end of the year.

At the time, Baker was defensive of his wait-and-see approach.

“There are a lot of kids for whom school is going to be the place where they have the biggest and best and most significant opportunity to get the kind of education they need," the governor said previously. "I don't want to start with the assumption that we're just going to blow that off for the rest of the year.”

On Tuesday, Baker paid particular focus to high school seniors who are going to miss out on proms and graduation ceremonies in person.

"That's a huge loss if you're a high school kid," he said, noting that he and his wife enjoy watching kids gather in front of Swampscott Town Hall to celebrate the prom each year. "The rituals that we've lost will come back. They're going to come back different in many cases than they were before, but they will come back."

With additional reporting from WBUR's Steve Brown and Kathleen McNerney.

This article was originally published on April 21, 2020.

This segment aired on April 22, 2020. The audio for this segment is not available.

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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