Planning To Reopen - Our Schools, DESE Guidance For Student Groups And Events
As the Commonwealth, School Districts and local communities continue to manage the ever-changing pandemic environment and create some semblance of normalcy for our children it is important to understand how the need for safety impacts student groups and events. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has issued guidance to help school districts and parents to navigate these uncharted waters. Below are excerpts from the DESE's recommendations. To view recommendations in their entirety click here.
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:
- Follow healthy hygiene practices
- Stay at home when sick
- Practice social distancing
- 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 CDC, EPA, FDA, Mass EEA, Mass 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).
Guidance For Student Groups and School Events For School Year 2020-2021
According to the Massachusetts DESE’s and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs the following guidance is intended to aid districts and schools in planning for the possible need to mixing of cohorts and school events that may require additional safety considerations.
Student activities provide important opportunities to develop leadership and teamwork skills, engage in new experiences, and serve their community. We strongly encourage schools and districts to continue providing these opportunities to students this fall. Adaptations to these activities, however, are necessary to support the safety of students and staff.
Specifically, this guidance covers:
- Student activities before and after school
- Non-athletic student groups
- Non-athletic interschool competitions
- Gatherings with outside participants
- Leaving school grounds
Note: As the DESE continues to monitor COVID-19 trends and the latest medical research the need to amend these guidelines may arise. Districts and schools should also reference the extensive reopening guidance issued by DESE for more information on core health and safety practices that schools must adopt this fall.
Specific guidance by type of activity
Non-Athletic Student Groups
Non-athletic student group meetings are likely to involve increased mixing between student cohorts. This may be more relevant for elementary students, who likely will have stricter cohorts. Whenever feasible and to the maximum extent possible, these meetings should be held virtually.
For in-person meetings, we recommend the following guidelines:
- Group meetings should be supervised by staff and must abide by DESE’s core health and safety guidelines (including masks, physical distance, frequent handwashing).
- Groups that work collaboratively (e.g., student newspaper, yearbook) should abide by the shared equipment guidance previously released in the Guidance for Courses Requiring Additional Safety Considerations During School Year 2020-2021.
- Group sizes should be reduced and work organized into cohorts to the extent feasible.
Non-Athletic Inter-school Competitions
Whenever feasible and to the maximum extent possible, inter-school competitions should be held virtually. There are online resources to support these virtual interactions. In-person interschool competitions are permitted if at least 6 feet of distance can be maintained between individuals and participants and attendees wear masks at all times.
- If an interschool competition is held in person, it must abide by the guidelines below for large gatherings and leaving school grounds.
- To the maximum extent feasible, interschool competitions should:
- Not share equipment
- Be held outdoors, if possible
- Shorten events or reduce participants
- Incorporate protective equipment in a safe manner to further reduce spread of respiratory particles
- Any volunteer activities must abide by DESE’s core health and safety guidelines (including masks, physical distance, frequent handwashing).
- Consider volunteer activities that are outdoors and do not require person-to-person interaction (e.g., planting flowers in a park).
- Consider virtual volunteer service (e.g., younger student mentor program, pen pals).
General guidance for gatherings with outside participants or leaving school grounds
Gatherings of 10 or More That Include Outside Participants
Whenever feasible and to the maximum extent possible, these gatherings should be moved online. Online events can be held where all participants are virtual, or where students and staff are in person, but audiences are virtual.
In-person gatherings (such as events and performances) should be discouraged and must abide by the following safety requirements. Only essential, student-centered events should be held in person, such as student group activities or inter-school competitions.
Gatherings of 10 or more that include outside participants, such as in-person events, inter-school competitions, and field trips, typically involve families and others outside of the school community, including people who may be in higher risk groups. As a result, it is important to put in place additional safety considerations.
- Whenever feasible and to the maximum extent possible, hold all events or competitions outdoors.
- Masks are required except when unsafe due to age, medical condition, or disability.
- All participants must maintain at least 6 feet of physical distance from every other participant in the gathering, aside from participants who are members of the same household. Additional physical distancing requirements for specific activities can be found in DESE’s Guidance for Courses Requiring Additional Safety Considerations During School Year 2020-2021.
- Limit attendees to the extent feasible:
- Indoor gatherings are limited to 8 persons per 1,000 square feet of accessible, indoor floor space and never more than 25 persons in a single, enclosed indoor space.
- Outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 percent of the maximum permitted occupancy of the facility or space, or 8 persons per 1,000 square feet if no occupancy limitation is on record, and never more than 50 persons in a single outdoor space.
- For outdoor performances involving singing or brass or wind instruments, there must be at least 25 feet of distance between performers and the first row of the audience.
- Indoor performances, including theater, band, or orchestra, are not permitted at this time, but may be in the future in accordance with state guidelines.
- Attendees should be informed in the weeks leading up to and including the day of the event, and at the entrance to the event, that they must not attend if they are feeling unwell or showing any symptoms of COVID-19.
- Consider scheduling multiple events, if needed, to allow for physical distancing.
- If the event is ticketed, tickets should be sold online in advance, if possible. Consider touchless payment for in-person ticket sales,and use handwashing before and after transactions.
- Establish directional pathways to manage visitor flow for foot traffic in order to minimize contact (e.g., one-way entrance and exit to shows, one-way pathways). Post clearly visible signage regarding these policies.
- Encourage the use of electronic versions or no-touch displays in place of commonly touched physical materials (such as programs or playbills) where possible. All commonly touched physical materials must be discarded or sanitized between use.
- Ensure access to handwashing facilities on site, including soap and running water, wherever possible, and encourage frequent handwashing; alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol may be used as an alternative.
Leaving School Grounds
Whenever feasible and to the maximum extent possible, consider virtual alternatives to leaving school grounds. Generally, it is not recommended to hold organized school trips leaving school grounds.
However, the risk level of leaving school grounds depends on the type of activity and transportation for the trip. All trips leaving school grounds must comply with all health and safety guidance, including physical distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, and sanitation.
- If a school trip includes walking or a brief ride that abides by transportation guidelines, takes place where significant interaction with the public is not expected, and abides by the health and safety guidelines, it is permitted. For example, students may walk to a nearby park to observe plant and animal life during science class.
- If a school trip includes a long bus ride (more than three hours one way), results in close interaction with additional people (e.g., within 6 feet of outside chaperones or the public), or cannot abide by the health and safety guidelines, it is not permitted.
- Field trips can pose an additional risk due to the need to travel offsite and the need for additional chaperones. Ideally, all field trips should be held virtually.
- Out of state travel is not recommended. If an out of state trip occurs, it must abide by the state COVID-19 travel order.
Consider how to adjust open campus policies (i.e., when older students are permitted to leave school campus during the school day) to better support health and safety guidelines, such as ensuring students follow health and safety guidelines upon entering or re-entering school.
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 CDC, EPA, FDA, Mass EEA, Mass EEC, Mass 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!
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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!