The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is extending its deadline for school districts to file their final reopening plans, a spokesperson from Commissioner Jeff Riley’s office confirmed to WGBH News on Thursday.
Districts were previously expected to file final, comprehensive versions of their reopening plans by Monday, including strategies for three possible options: in-person, all-remote, and a hybrid combining in-person and remote learning.
“The infection rates really do dictate how we approach this,” Natick Superintendent Anna Nolin said in an interview with WGBH News. “The committee is thinking, let’s just wait and keep taking in information.”
Nolin and the Natick School Committee met with Riley on Thursday after canceling a Wednesday evening committee meeting while waiting for additional guidance from DESE.
“We thought that they were going to come out with the state thresholds for virus rates and school closings and school models,” Nolin said. “It would be helpful if the state gave us some thresholds about what was safe and unsafe in terms of rates of infection. Every other sector is opening up, but they haven't really given those kinds of phasings for schools. They still did not give us that information.”
DESE Commissioner Riley said that “if the current positive public health metrics hold, we believe that when we follow critical health requirements, we can safely return to in-person school this fall.”
DESE has not specified what public health threshold needs to be met for students to return to an in-person option or what metric would dictate beginning school with an all-remote model. A question to Riley and DESE was not immediately answered by the time of this article’s publishing.
Nolin says she’s desperate to begin what will most likely be a hybrid learning model as quickly as possible.
“I feel immense pressure to try to open,” Nolin said. “We need to be able to do our jobs. We feed kids. We assess them for abuse and neglect. We help them with their immunizations. We are their trusted adults, not to mention all the academics.”
The state says it will provide feedback on Natick’s draft plans by Monday evening. Nolin says she’s been in constant communication with DESE, but the process has been frustrating.
“I feel like I have been told to plan a wedding,” Nolin said. “I know a wedding is happening. I don't know who the guests are. I don't actually know who is getting married. I'm not really sure what my budget is. I hired a band, but I don't really know the playlist. I'm not sure what we're serving. But somehow I’m supposed to get everybody the seating chart right away — that's how it feels. I'm supposed to know where everybody's going to be placed according to their preference, but I don't actually have any of the details to do it.”