BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has released new guidance on how individual school districts should plan to reopen in the fall semester.
The DESE's updated guidance was sent to the state's superintendents on Tuesday. It includes a color-coded map, which shows each community's average rate of daily COVID-19 infections, and signifies a recommended learning model based on that localized data.
The map has each municipality color-coded either in red (average daily cases per 100,000 is greater than 8,) yellow (average daily cases per 100,000 is 4-8,) green (average daily cases per 100,000 is less than 4,) or unshaded (fewer than 5 total cases over the past 14 days - generally this is for communities with small populations and very few cases.)
Currently, 318 of the Commonwealth's 351 communities are green or unshaded. For those districts, the state DESE recommends a "full-time in-person" model of learning, or a hybrid model in the case of "extenuating circumstances."
29 communities are color-coded yellow. The state suggests those districts should reopen under a "hybrid" learning model, or remote under extenuating circumstances.
Chelsea, Everett, Lynn, and Revere are the only four communities colored red on the DESE's map, indicating those school districts should return in the fall with a fully-remote learning model.
In a letter sent to Massachusetts superintendents detailing the new mapping system, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said the metrics should serve as a "guide" to how schools should reopen amid the pandemic.
Riley said the map will be updated regularly to "support future decision-making," in case the impact of COVID-19 requires schools to switch between educational models throughout the school year.
"Each Wednesday, the Department of Public Health releases its Weekly COVID-19 Public Health Report that contains critical metrics for each municipality," Riley said in the letter. "Effective this week, there will also be a color-coded indication posted for each municipality calculated on a rolling two-week basis.... Because the impact of the virus is local, the concept of this particular COVID-19 health/safety designation is focused on the municipal level."
Riley said the state's guidelines were developed in consultation with our infectious disease physicians, and other public health experts.
"It is our expectation that districts’ learning models will follow this color-coded metric, unless there are extenuating circumstances identified after consultation with local boards of health," Riley said. "This includes reviewing additional metrics, such as whether cases are increasing or decreasing, the local test positivity rate, and other contextual factors."
On Tuesday, Gov. Baker said he hoped the data showed that most districts are able to return to at least part-time in-person learning.
"We would certainly hope that based on this data, if you're in a green or a white (color-coded) community, I can't imagine a reason not to go back," said Baker, "whether it's full-time or some sort of hybrid."
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