Massachusetts schools may soon return to full-time in-person learning

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By MARLENE LENTHANG, ABC News

(BOSTON) -- Elementary school students in Massachusetts may return to in-person learning five days a week by April, education officials said Tuesday.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley announced Tuesday morning that he plans to ask for the authority to reverse pandemic education changes in March.

“At some point as health metrics continue to improve, we will need to take hybrid and remote learning models off the table and return to a traditional school format," he said.

Riley said he will ask for the authority to determine when hybrid and remote school models will no longer count for learning hours.

He plans to take a phased approach by bringing back elementary students first by April and then extend to middle and high schoolers returning by the end of the school year.

Parents will have the option to have their kids work remotely through the end of the year, Riley said, and districts that need to take a more gradual approach can apply for waivers to start out with a hybrid model if they are currently fully remote.

Most public schools in the state have offered blended remote and in-person learning, and 23% were fully remote as of December, according to Massachusetts Live.

In his decision, Riley cited that COVID-19 cases have declined in the state, the vaccine rollout is well underway, the availability of pool testing for school districts and upcoming spring weather.

He also noted that medical experts state children are less likely to contract and transmit COVID-19, and younger students are easy to cohort.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said in a press conference Tuesday he supports the move to open up schools.

“With COVID cases and hospitalizations continuing to decline and vaccines well underway, it is time to set our sights on eliminating remote learning by April, starting with elementary schools," Baker said.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 540,794 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state and 15,534 confirmed and 319 probable deaths from the virus, according to the state's department of public health.

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