DESE Issues New Guidelines and Recovery Response Advisory Committee to provide school reopening update Monday

Photo by Joshua Ross

July 24, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer

During next Monday's (July 27) remote Hingham School Committee meeting, the Recovery Response Advisory Committee will present an update to the board, parents, and other members of the community who are interested in learning more about preliminary school reopening plans. (See details below on how to access the meeting).

In the meantime, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released yesterday dozens of pages of Fall school reopening guidance related to facilities and operations, bus transportation, and protocols for responding to COVID-19 scenarios.

This guidance will be followed and incorporated into whatever reopening decision is made as to whether Hingham Public Schools students will continue to be taught remotely, return to in-school learning, or engage in a hybrid combination of both, for the new school year.

The results of a recent survey of parents and guardians of students enrolled in the HPS will also be taken into consideration.

Here's a snapshot of the DESE guidance:

* Facilities and operations-- DESE's continuing goal is for "the safe in-person return of as many students as possible in a school setting." For this to happen, according to DESE, "schools and districts will need to prepare their facilities and adapt operating procedures to adhere to medically-advised health and safety requirements."

This guidance relates to preparing spaces, making systems and other space-use modifications, and developing operational protocols -- all within social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing, school cleaning and disinfecting, ventilation, and other requirements.

  • Face masks covering the nose and mouth are to be worn by students (required for grade 2 students and up, and strongly encouraged for kindergarten and grade 1), staff, visitors, and vendors. Exceptions for meals, mask breaks, and medical exemptions are permitted.
  • Frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing are required.
  • Schools should aim for a physical distance of 6 feet whenever possible, with a minimum distance of three free. During meals, mask breaks, and other times when masks are not worn,  six feet is the minimum distance allowed.
  • The creation of cohorts (self-contained groups) of students wherever possible and limiting these cohorts from interaction with others is recommended, as is assigned seating. This means that if there is a positive COVID-19 case in the school, fewer individuals will have interacted with that person.
  • Schools are required to develop a comprehensive approach to communications with educators, staff, students, families, and other community members.

* Bus transportation -- All staff and students on the bus, regardless of age, are required to wear masks at all times. There are exemptions for students due to medical and/or behavioral reasons and associated protocols. Other guidance relates to no more than one student per bench (children from the same household may sit together), with alternating sides for each row to maintain roughly 3 feet of physical distance. Windows must remain open when possible, and students will be assigned to a single bus and a particular seat.

* Protocols for responding to COVID-19 scenarios in school, on the bus, and in community settings -- Staff must monitor themselves for symptoms daily -- and students, with the assistance of families, must also be monitored daily for symptoms. Staff and students must stay home if feeling unwell or exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms. Students second grade and above and all staff must wear masks that adequately cover both their nose and mouth.

Younger children are strongly encouraged to wear masks. Exceptions are allowed for students with medical, behavioral, or other challenges who are unable to wear masks/face coverings. Handwashing and sanitizing and the creation of cohorts as mentioned above are other important measures. Testing, contact tracing, and isolation measures are also outlined in the DESE guidance.

Preliminary reopening plans for Massachusetts school districts, including Hingham, are due July 31. The deadline for submitting finalized reopening plans is Aug. 10.

Here are the remote meeting details:
Hingham School Committee
Monday, July 27, 7 p.m. (agenda is posted on the Town of Hingham website calendar)
Remote meeting via Zoom:
Dial-in number: 1-929-205-6099
Meeting ID: 894 5980 6142

For full details on the DESE guidance, visit the following links:

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