Baker closes Mass. schools through May 4

Riley sees ‘amazing opportunity’ to rethink education

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Wednesday ordered all schools and non-emergency childcares closed through May 4, extending the current three-week suspension by an additional month in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Baker said state education officials will be issuing guidance on Thursday to districts on how to conduct remote learning with their students while schools are closed..

“This is not an extended school vacation,” Baker said. “Teachers, districts, and parents are getting creative and doing everything they can to ensure kids don’t fall behind and stay engaged.”

Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, applauded Baker’s decision to keep schools closed. “We believe the governor is following the advice of the medical experts. The safety of our students and staff must come first,” Najimy said, deferring judgment on the remote learning guidance until she sees it.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education plans to issue guidance to districts regarding remote learning, which districts will then be able to customize to their students. Districts will be required to develop remote learning plans.

Baker said teachers will need to customize instruction to ensure that all students, including special needs students and English language learners, are able to complete their coursework by the end of June.

“We recognize this is a traumatic time for our kids, and we want to get them settled, we want to get them into a routine,” said Education Commissioner Jeff Riley.

Riley said the new curriculum could involve online learning, but also project-based learning – things like exploring nature, doing safe activities to help their community, or making art.

“Think about project-based learning, reading a book, cooking recipes, starting a garden. We have a real opportunity to do different things with children,” Riley said. “It could be an amazing opportunity to think differently about how we educate our kids.”

Baker also tried to portray the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to experiment with project-based learning.

State officials are partnering with WGBH and WGBY, public TV stations that will run educational programming on television from noon to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Riley said that is one way to reach students who do not have access to a computer. Districts could also mail out reading lists and packets of materials, so not all learning is conducted online, he said.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Riley said the state will develop ways to serve the most vulnerable children, noting that 1,200 sites are already offering take-out meals to feed kids during the day.

Asked about the MCAS standardized tests, Riley said he has not yet made any decisions. He said he is awaiting approval of a waiver by the federal government to waive testing requirements, and he is waiting for the state Legislature to give him authority to make decisions around testing.

While most childcare facilities will remain shut through May 4, the state will continue to offer emergency childcare for parents who are health care providers or have otherwise essential jobs, or for vulnerable children, like those in foster care. As of yesterday, the state had approved 400 emergency daycare programs with the capacity to serve more than 8,000 children.