Jenn Smith | Recess: Still many question marks as schools plot return plans

Will school districts have a budget? And how much? Before the end of the month, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley, seen here in North Adams on Oct. 12, 2018, in is expected to speak more on these matters and to release some initial fall guidance for reopening.

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School might be out for summer, but it's likely that students, educators and families will be working harder than ever over the next couple of months to understand what's next for them.

Will school districts have a budget? And how much?

Will back-to-school shopping included more masks and hand sanitizer, or a better high-speed internet connection to continue with remote learning?

When schools reopen, will there still be school resource officers there? Will teachers who have received pink slips be rehired?

Having to answer to these questions is a position I don't envy.

At the state level, the governor's office and education departments are grappling with rolling out its multiphase plan as grassroots efforts like the "Bring Kids Back" campaign of concerned Massachusetts K-12 parents grows, calling for all students to return to school this fall; and as the Massachusetts Teachers Association has released its own set of "principles for school reopening." The latter includes directives to fully fund public schools; increase staff to support increased students needs; address student safety to include emotional health and well-being and provide trauma-informed and anti-racist materials and practices; eliminating the use of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System; and ensuring access to secure technology and reliable internet connections for families and faculty.

Before the end of the month, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley is expected to speak more on these matters and to release some initial fall guidance for reopening.

On the early elementary education and child care fronts, centers and home providers are strategizing how to stay afloat with fewer children and calls for increased staff, as per state guidelines.

"First and foremost, during the closure the state has continued to pay subsidies to providers that enrolled children on the voucher system. This is great for those centers but for any private pay centers we have had no income," Ready Set Learn Preschool Director Melissa Fawcett tells me.

The capacity limits, which essentially reduce class sizes, in half are also concerning to her.

"Where will these children go?? If ALL of us are at 1/2 capacity there will be so many kids with no place to go," she wrote in an email.

At the higher education level, as students and families continue to rack up loan debt and other expenses, they're also trying to determine whether returning to campus this fall is an acceptable risk. The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts announced last week it will hold in-person classes, based on student interest. Berkshire Community College is still finalizing its plans. Williams College has a July 1 deadline to make its announcement for reopening. Bard College at Simon's Rock has announced a fall hybrid calendar that begins with in-person classes but concludes the fall semester at home.

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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