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Frequently Asked Questions about Returning to School for Parents and Guardians

(As of August 27, 2020. This page will be updated regularly as information becomes available)

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) continues to provide new information and updates on the reopening of school this fall. The FAQ below is tailored to parents and guardians. We have also published additional questions and answers that provide important updates for school leaders, teachers, and other school and community stakeholders.

Health and Safety

  1. How will you ensure my child is kept safe if they return to school?

    There is no way to remove all the risk associated with returning to in-person school, and parents/families with students who have compromised medical conditions should consult with their physician before selecting an in-person option. However, for the vast majority of students, the medical research to date on COVID-19 is clear that children, particularly those in elementary and middle school, are less likely than adults to be infected. Furthermore, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if young children become infected, they do not appear to have the same transmission potential as adults. Children below the age of 19 are almost 4 times less likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19.

    Six months into this pandemic, we know that safety procedures, executed well, can make a huge difference in preventing transmission. We have the benefit of learning from school re-openings in a number of countries. The combination of masks/face coverings, physical distancing, hand-washing/sanitizing, and staying home at the first sign of a symptom will greatly reduce the spread of the virus. In addition, schools are putting protocols in place to isolate students who exhibit symptoms at school and quarantine students and teachers who have been exposed. All of these precautions require a seamless partnership between families and schools in order for students to understand how to protect themselves and others.

  2. What are the requirements for physical distancing between students?

    DESE's guidance, in consultation with medical experts and state health officials, advises that schools allow for a minimum of 3 feet, and ideally 6 feet of physical distancing whenever possible. This, in combination with other safety measures, will minimize transmission.

  3. Who needs to wear a mask or face covering, and when do they have to be worn?

    Masks have been found to be effective in reducing transmission, so all educators and staff and all students in second grade and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth at all times. Students in kindergarten and grade 1 are strongly encouraged to wear masks. Students will have designated breaks throughout the day to remove their mask, but only when they are 6 feet apart and ideally outside or at least with the windows open. During school bus transportation, everyone, including students in kindergarten and grade 1, must wear masks/face coverings.

  4. Are there exceptions to wearing masks or face coverings?

    Exceptions to mask/face covering requirements will be made for those for whom it is not possible due to medical conditions, disability impact, or other health or safety factors.

  5. Can families send children to school without a mask/face covering?

    Families of students in grades 2 and up should send their child to school with a mask. Kindergarten and first grade students are required to wear a mask on the bus and encouraged to wear a mask in school. We are asking families to start getting children used to this safety practice over the summer. Schools have been given the funding to purchase extra face masks for students who forget to bring theirs to school or who cannot afford to purchase one on their own.

  6. Is there a maximum number of students per class?

    No, but classrooms must meet the physical distancing requirements of at least 3 feet and should allow for 6 feet whenever possible. Schools have been considering a variety of creative options utilizing all non-classroom space, such as gyms, auditoriums, and libraries.

  7. How will schools handle lunch time?

    Students will be required to be at least 6 feet apart during lunch, which will allow them to take their masks off to eat and drink. There may need to be multiple meal breaks for smaller cohorts of students, and some students may need to eat lunch in their classroom, outside, or in other rooms as opposed to the cafeteria.

  8. After in-person instruction resumes, does a student need to submit a doctor's note if they need to be out for personal health reasons?

    School committees set local attendance policy. Given the current health crisis, DESE does not recommend requiring a physician's note for attendance-related purposes for personal health reasons. If the student's family is seeking home or hospital educational services, the regular home/hospital process must be followed, including the completion of the Physician's Affirmation of Need for Temporary Home or Hospital Education for Medically Necessary Reasons, which requires a physician's signature.

  9. Will schools have new practices in place for cleaning the school?

    Yes. The federal and state governments have made money available to schools for COVID-19-related costs, including more thorough and frequent cleaning of the school building.

  10. How will schools ensure good hygiene (hand washing and sanitizing)?

    Students and staff are required to exercise good hand hygiene (handwashing or sanitizing) upon arrival to school, before eating, before putting on and taking off masks and before dismissal. Hand sanitizer will be placed at key locations (e.g., building entrances, cafeteria, classrooms, etc.).

  11. What if a student of staff member tests positive for COVID-19?

    Districts should follow the protocols published by DESE this summer Download Word Document. Those protocols include ensuring that the student or staff member is at home until they are no longer contagious, notifying anyone who may have been in close contact with the individual, and sharing instructions for isolation and testing. Depending on your school/district, the notification to people who were in close contact with the individual may come as a phone call, email, or text message.

  12. Will schools be able to test students who have symptoms of COVID-19?

    If a student shows symptoms, he or she will be quarantined away from all students and staff until a parent or family member is able to pick him or her up. The school will continue to follow up with the student's family to create a learning plan for the child until it is safe for them to return to school. If district leaders believe there might have been transmission of COVID-19 cases within the school building, the district can work with the local health department to request a mobile testing team from the state. The mobile team will be available to test students and staff who do not have symptoms (anyone with symptoms would already be home and would be tested elsewhere).

Models of Learning

  1. What are the different types of instructional models schools may open with?

    Every district was required to submit a plan to DESE with three different possibilities for learning: 1) in-person learning with safety protocols in place, 2) a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, and 3) remote learning. Districts and schools decided what model schools will open with based on their local situations and transmission rates. Although there are many benefits to in-person learning, families can choose to have their child learn remotely regardless of what model the district decides to put in place.

  2. When will I know which option my school has chosen?

    Plans should now be posted on each district's website and translated into multiple languages.

  3. Can families choose whether to send their children to school or keep them learning remotely?

    In-school attendance is highly encouraged to promote student academic progress, because there is no substitute for the attention and engagement possible with in-person learning. If a district is offering a hybrid model or in-person instruction, families can choose to participate in that model or keep their child at home learning remotely.

  4. If my child starts the school year remotely, can I send them back to in-person learning? What about if my child starts in-person, but I want to switch to remote learning?

    Yes, families can choose to send their children to in-person learning if they started the year remotely and can also change from in-person to remote. It is important for families and schools to be in close communication about any changes. For a smooth transition, we encourage families to discuss any change with the school early on, which allows for more thoughtful planning.

  5. How is remote learning different from homeschooling?

    Remote learning is when learning happens outside of the traditional classroom, but with instruction and materials that are provided by the school where the student is enrolled. In many cases, remote learning includes online learning, but it does not have to. (603 CMR 27.08).

    Homeschooling is a decision that families make that is a type of private education. Families are required to obtain all materials themselves Home schooling requires advance approval by the district in which you live, under the policy that the school committee has adopted.

  6. Is there a chance that if a school opens in-person or with a hybrid model, that it could change to remote learning?

    Yes. If the public health situation changes in a school or its community, a school or district might switch to a different learning model during the course of the school year. That is why districts were asked to include all three learning models (in person, hybrid, and remote) in their plans. We are working closely with a team of medical experts who will be guiding us through these situations as they emerge.

    The good news is that we have had time to learn from the spring, and we are prepared to make the transition to remote-only learning should it be necessary.

  7. If my child is learning remotely, what will be done to make sure he or she isn't falling behind or missing material that would have been covered in class?

    The state issued new expectations for remote learning this fall, and they include tracking attendance and participation, giving grades, engaging students for a full school day, and communicating with families. If you have concerns, please contact your child's teacher.

  8. What do I do if I have other questions not answered here?

    Please check your school's and district's website and/or email questions to

Last Updated: August 28, 2020

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
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