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Planning To Reopen - Our Schools, DESE FAQ From The Commissioner's Desk

9/22/2020 (Permalink)

As schools reopen, common questions continue to arise from district and school leaders on how to implement the guidance that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued over the summer. The DESE will continue to issue an intermittent FAQ, developed in collaboration with the Department of Public Health, regarding these questions. The information below provides further clarifications on the following topics: when to consider suspending in-person instruction, whether alternative diagnoses can negate the need for a COVID test, guidance for safely hosting ACT or SAT tests, and mask usage. 

Please note supplemental information can be found on the Department's website at DESE COVID-19 Information and Resources.

NOTE: COVID-19 is highly transmissible. Individuals should follow these universal precautions regardless of the extent of mitigation needed:

  1. Follow healthy hygiene practices
  2. Stay at home when sick
  3. Practice social distancing 
  4. Use a cloth face covering (with some exceptions) in community settings when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

The current state of the COVID-19 pandemic is continually evolving. What is true today may not be tomorrow. At this time, the evidence suggests schools have not played a significant role in COVID-19 transmission and that children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19.

As always, work with your local health officials to determine a set of strategies appropriate for your community’s situation.

(See our Planning to Reopen series of blogs for more information regarding CDCEPAFDAMass EEAMass DESE, and OSHA safety requirements). To review the administration's reopening guidance from the state click here. To view Governor Baker's full report click here).

Frequently Asked Questions

1) How do we know if we need to suspend in-person learning for our school or district?

There is no one threshold or metric that indicates a school or district should suspend in-person learning. District and school leaders can work closely with DESE’s COVID Reporting Unit (781-338-3500) when there is a positive case in their district to determine the appropriate next steps. These next steps can include implementing existing DESE protocols to notify close contacts for testing and isolation, conferring with local public health and/or the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to determine if transmission is occurring in the class or school, or seeking advice on whether to suspend in-person learning for that class, grade, or school. It is important to note that these decisions need to be made based on local context, occur in collaboration with DESE and the local board of health, and may be based on the following factors:

  1. If there is a need for an extensive cleaning of the building or other facility mitigation
  2. If the mobile testing unit results, or other test results, suggest widespread transmission is occurring
  3. If there are widespread absences among students and staff due to illness
  4. If the school is in a district reported as “red” on the DPH health metric for the past three weeks, and risk of transmission to students and/or staff is increased

The school department and the local board of health may have other local factors that are important to consider when making this decision.

2) Does a symptomatic child with an alternative diagnosis, such as a strep throat, still need a COVID test before returning to school?

In order to protect schools from the introduction of COVID, testing of symptomatic individuals should be the default practice. Students with acute onset of new symptoms (especially respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, sore throat) or fever should almost always receive a negative COVID test before returning to school. Health care providers have clinical discretion to consider chronic illnesses or symptoms such as headache and abdominal or gastrointestinal symptoms and use clinical judgment to defer testing when an alternative cause is firmly established.

3) Can schools host SAT and ACT tests?

Districts and school leaders have asked questions on how to safely administer SAT and ACT tests during the 2020-2021 school year, especially as many students were not able to take these tests as anticipated last spring. As long as the testing is sponsored by or administered by the school or district, this testing can occur in alignment if DESE health and safety guidelines for gatherings with outside participants (available hereare followed. Key health and safety requirements for gatherings with outside participants include maintaining at least six feet of distance between individuals, wearing masks at all times, proper hand hygiene, and a capacity limitation of 8 persons per 1,000 square feet and never more than 25 individuals in a single, enclosed indoor space.

4) What masks are recommended?

DESE has received a number of queries on the recommended types of masks from educators. Masks should cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face. Masks should be secured with ties or ear loops and include multiple layers of fabric. If students are not able to wear a mask due to medical, behavioral, or other challenges, they may consider wearing a face shield. Transparent masks may be the best option for both teachers and students in classes for deaf and hard of hearing students. They may also be useful for teachers and younger students who rely on visual or facial cues.

5) How can masks be safely removed?

When putting on and taking off a mask, do not touch the front of it. Only handle the ties or ear loops. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after removing a mask, and before putting on a mask. Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing the mask. Masks should be placed on napkins or paper towels (with the inside face up) when removed for meals or mask breaks. Masks should be washed regularly. More information on how to wash masks can be found visiting the CDC website or clicking here.

6) How should mask breaks be conducted?

It is recommended that students have at least two mask breaks per day (e.g. mealtime and recess). As it is recommended that students younger than second grade wear masks, it is important to note that they may need additional mask breaks during the day. Mask breaks should be held outdoors, if feasible. Students must be at least 6 feet apart during mask breaks. Hand washing facilities or hand sanitizer must be available when entering and leaving this space. Students should remove masks as outlined above.

NOTE: According to Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education areas of the school visited by the COVID-19 positive individual must be closed off and/or cleaned and disinfected. The area can be used 12 hours after cleaning/disinfecting has occurred.

While the administration continues to work with communities to implement best practices and protocols for reopening our schools we will continue to share with you guidance from the CDCEPAFDAMass EEAMass EECMass DESE, and OSHA and the Governor's office to follow as we prepare for the new school year.

Also, we at SERVPRO of Framingham know that not every community has access to the resources necessary to meet the strict cleaning guidelines to ensure a safe environment for our children. For those communities, we are here to help!

Certified: SERVPRO Cleaned

The Disaster Remediation Teams at SERVPRO of Framingham are specialists in cleaning services and we adhere to the highest cleaning and sanitation standards. We are prepared to clean and disinfect your schools, according to protocols set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We have years of experience in dealing with biological contaminants, and we will go beyond the scope of work of "normal daily cleaning". Call SERVPRO of Framingham today for a free consultation - (508) 370-4400.

All of us here at SERVPRO of Framingham want you and your loved ones to stay safe and know that we will make it through this together! Rest assured, we will continue to do our best to keep you up-to-date and informed!

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