Think tank slams Charlie Baker’s ‘hands-off’ approach on reopening schools

A new report slams Gov. Charlie Baker’s “hands-off” approach to reopening schools and recommends the state to give more direct and concrete guidance to local districts.

“The state’s approach to reopening the schools too closely resembles President Trump’s often too hands-off COVID-19 response,” Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios said in a statement. “State guidelines can’t just be lists of options. If school districts are to effectively serve Massachusetts’ families, they must also provide direction and express preferences.”

The report highlights Baker’s decision to implement a “much-needed return to school” for teachers and students this fall, but says the governor’s plan fails to inform districts how to do so.

Districts are tasked with determining whether to adopt in-person, remote or hybrid schooling options for the fall semeste and must submit preliminary reopening plans to state education officials by Friday.

“The present challenge is how to implement this much-needed return to school, optimally balancing the importance of in-person schooling with the countervailing importance against the virus,” the group says in the foreword to the report.

The report identifies five “key” recommendations after analyzing successful measures taken in other states and countries, including Finland, Denmark, South Korea, and Japan that were ahead of the U.S. in their original shutdowns and also experienced some reopening and other adaptations inside schools.

Massachusetts should prioritize dramatically improving remote learning capabilities, include more specific criteria for schools to approach fall instruction models, refine guidance for cohort learning, aid with communication between students, families and teachers and be willing to adjust physical distancing guidelines and be flexible in using a variety of public spaces for schooling, according to the report’s recommendations.

Gov. Charlie Baker shuttered schools statewide on March 17 as the coronavirus took hold in Massachusetts. Classes made the abrupt shift to online learning to varying degrees of success as many districts scrambled to support teachers and find laptops or pay for internet connections for students in need.

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on June 25 released initial reopening guidance for schools and last week refined its recommendations.

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