Remote learning to continue as Bay State deals with peak of pandemic

📸 Classroom lights are off and the parking lot is empty at Charlton Street School in Southbridge. Governor Charlie Baker’s announcement on Tuesday afternoon assured this will remain the case for the remainder of the school year. Kathy Rodriguez photo for The Citizen Chronicle.

BOSTON — School buildings around the Commonwealth will remain closed for the duration of the 2019-2020 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Charlie Baker announced on Tuesday afternoon.

Baker said the “big decision” was a necessary one, while Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley described the coronavirus pandemic as “an unprecedented interruption to an entire generation of students.”

The continued closures were deemed necessary in an effort to slow the continued spread of COVID-19.

“It’s the right thing to do considering the facts on the ground,” Baker said.

He later added: “There just isn’t enough guidance or enough information out there on how to do it safely.”

The doors to schools across the state will remain closed for the duration of the school year. The Citizen Chronicle file photo.

Baker and Riley cited concerns with the logistics of incorporating social distancing in schools, including proper spacing in classrooms and school buses, staggered schedules, and the safety of educators who may be older or have pre-existing health conditions.

The governor explained the unprecedented steps taken come as officials grapple with COVID-19’s impact. Health and safety are a priority in the battle against “this insidious disease,” Baker said.

“There is no authoritative guidance or advisors on respect to how to operate schools safely,” Baker said.

Baker said the coronavirus pandemic has “upended” the lives of students, resulting in a “terrible loss.” For high school seniors who are missing out on proms, senior trips, and graduation ceremonies, the governor encouraged the Class of 2020 to stay strong and forge ahead.

“The end of the year may not proceed as planned but there will be, because there always are, brighter days ahead,” Baker said.

For teachers, officials recognized their efforts in continuing to educate students remotely.

“They miss the kids,” Riley said of teachers. “This is a challenging situation.”

“We appreciate how challenging this is to be apart from your students and still find ways to keep them motivated,” said Baker, noting a remote learning initiative is being launched to help provide greater resources.

Riley said efforts to improve remote learning operations across the state are ongoing.

“We have a long way to make remote learning work smoothly for our students,” he said.

Riley held a conference call with school superintendents from across the state on Tuesday morning, informing them a decision would be announced by the governor during his daily COVID-19 press conference.

Quaboag Regional Schools Superintendent Brett Kustigian reported the decision on his Twitter account at 12:02 p.m., roughly 15 minutes before Baker formally made the announcement. Kustigian’s tweet noted Quaboag schools “will continue with our remote learning plans and more information will follow.”

Though some local school districts began closing classroom doors in early March, the first state-wide closures were announced on March 15. That first announcement came as a two-week closure for all public and private schools across Massachusetts. The closures were extended 10 days later as Baker and Riley announced on March 25 that schools would open no sooner than May 4. After the State Legislature enacted legislation to cancel scheduled MCAS testing, Baker signed the bill into law on April 10.

The classroom of this “best teacher ever” at Eastford Road School in Southbridge will remain dark for the remainder of the school year. Helen Boyle photo for the Citizen Chronicle.

This is a breaking news story and this article will be updated as more information becomes available. This story was last updated at 12:56 p.m. on April 21, 2020.

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