The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is officially weighing in on how school districts should be offering remote instruction.
The department has been working with several education stakeholders for the last few weeks to develop the set of guidelines around remote learning, which so far has been widely supported.
The guidelines released on Thursday afternoon give districts a lot of flexibility. The only firm obligation it includes is a requirement that schools offer meaningful and productive learning opportunities to all of their students. The state also stressed the need for districts to prioritize the holistic needs of students and ensure that they offer equitable services to vulnerable students like English learners or students with a disability.
State education commissioner Jeff Riley said if schools have not already developed a remote learning model, they should begin doing so now and plan to launch in early April.
The guidelines recommend things like limiting instruction and learning time to half of the regular school day. Teachers are also encouraged to make direct contact with their students multiple times a week and provide feedback on their work, but the plan discourages the use of formal grades on anything submitted.
Officials also make a point of highlighting that remote learning doesn't always have to be online. Learning experience can also happen in the real world, with appropriate social distancing measures.
A wide group of stakeholders signed their support of the plan including the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association, the Massachusetts Association of School Committee and the American Federation of Teachers.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association also signed their support of the guidelines. The group’s president Merrie Najimy said for the most part, the document reflects the union's priorities.
“The singular most important thing is that we support the emotional physical health of our students parents and educators,” she said. “Secondly, we know that remote learning cannot replace school.”
Tom Scott with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents said his members appreciate how much flexibility and local control the guidelines give to districts because each district is working with different student needs and resource levels.
“There’s got to be flexibility for districts to be able to deal within the limitations of the circumstances and the resources we have,” he said.
While Najimy appreciates the flexibility the document offers, she also feels that educators need to have a meaningful say in what's decided locally.