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Additional guidance from phone call with Commissioner Riley

March 13, 2020

We have reached a point where the virus has progressed, and school leaders have taken steps to close individual schools or even individual districts varying from a single day to longer closures depending on the district's specific situation. In cases where the exposure has been more pronounced, schools have worked with their local boards and DPH to determine the need for longer term closures. Should superintendents have trouble connecting to DPH and need more pressing guidance, I have asked Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, to resend my cell phone number to you so that you can call me. I will work to assist you in getting the support you need.

Coronavirus cases seem, at this time, to be isolated geographically, and in fact, we are hearing that many schools are not experiencing any issues. That, however, does not mean that the virus will not accelerate to other areas of the state, if it hasn't already. At this time, the administration is not asking for a statewide closure, but that could change in the future as circumstances change.

In that context, I would like to provide some updated guidance:

  • DESE is suspending all monitoring and onsite assistance visits, except in a few special circumstances. We want you to focus on what matters most, which is keeping your students and staff safe. If you want our assistance, we will be happy to provide it virtually.

  • We are looking to determine whether the April 1 deadline for submission of the Student Opportunity Act plans can be extended. This deadline is state law, so we will need to work with legislature.

  • We have not made any changes to the MCAS testing schedule at this time, but we reserve the right to extend or move the assessment windows or take other action as needed. For example, we are looking into the 10th grade ELA test and will get more information to you as soon as we can.

    • There may be an opportunity for a one-year assessment and accountability waiver from the federal government, but even if that is granted, we would need legislative relief from our state legislature to waive the state law around the testing requirement.

  • The MIAA has canceled all winter sporting events scheduled for this weekend.

  • We hope to sending a letter to districts that they can share with families about the coronavirus.

School Meals:

  • USDA has approved Massachusetts' waiver request to allow schools where at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals to continue providing meals to students if the school closes. We also received approval to have schools serve these meals in an appropriate format, such as a "grab-and-go" option for students to take home.

    • We encourage schools to start thinking about ways to keep their kitchens open to continue providing meals to students.

  • Only public schools where at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals are currently eligible for USDA reimbursement under such circumstances. Other schools can choose to provide meals at their own discretion if their school is closed, but DESE cannot currently approve those meals for USDA reimbursement.

  • Additionally, community-based organizations that participated in the USDA Summer Food Service Program in 2019 are eligible to serve and claim meals for reimbursement to help with school closures.

Special Education

If a school closure causes educational services for all students to pause within a school or district, then the school or district is generally not required to provide services to the affected students with disabilities during that same period of time. However, districts should be communicating with parents and guardians prior to, during, and after a school closure regarding their child's IEP services. This ongoing communication will help educators, administrators, and parents/caregivers understand any impact of the closure on students' access to a free and appropriate public education. After an extended closure, districts should review how the closure impacted the delivery of special education and related services and convene individual IEP team meetings if necessary. Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston will contact special education directors to hold a webinar related to special education concerns as soon as possible.

Bullying and Harassment

COVID-19 is not at all connected to race, ethnicity, or nationality. School staff should be mindful that bullying, intimidation, or harassment of students, staff, families and others based on actual or perceived race, color, national origin, or disability (including the actual disability of being infected with COVID-19 or perception of being infected) may result in a violation of state and federal civil rights laws. School districts must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate what occurred when responding to reports of bullying or harassment. If parents and families believe that their child has experienced bullying, harassment, or intimidation related to the COVID-19 outbreak, they should contact their school district's designated civil rights compliance coordinator.

Notes from doctors:

Please do not require doctor's notes for students. Doctors have too many other things to do at this point.

Privacy

Students and staff may be disclosing private health information to you. Please preserve their privacy to the greatest extent possible while also taking whatever steps needed to address any COVID-19 exposure. If someone at your school is diagnosed with the virus, the public does not need to know their name or other details that reveal their identity.





Last Updated: March 13, 2020



 
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