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FRAMINGHAM – Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley gained approval on Friday to require public school districts to return all elementary students to in-person classroom learning on April 5.

In an 8-3 vote, the Massachusetts Board of Education gave the Commissioner the authority to say if you are in remote or hybrid learning at the elementary level that those days may not count towards time on learning. Districts are required to have 180 days of learning each school year.

Last month, Framingham students with the highest needs – students in phases 1, 2, 3 – returned to the classroom 5 days a week.

Earlier this month students in Phase IV began a hybrid model with classroom learning. The final group of phase IV students returned to the classroom today, March 8.

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However, roughly 50% of parents have chosen to keep their students home and in remote learning. Parents still have that option under Commissioner Riley’s plan to return all elementary school students to full-time classroom learning in April.

Tonight, Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay and School Committee Chair Adam Freudberg met with the 3-member Board of Health to discuss the education vote on Friday, Riley’s plan for elementary students return next month, and the issues Framingham is facing as a public school district still dealing with the coronavirus.

In his opinion, Supt. Tremblay said Riley’s is trying to force completely remote school districts into a hybrid model.

But he said urban school districts, like Framingham, which is already in a hybrid model, face real issues in a full-on in-person return.

“I’d like to think Framingham is positioned pretty well, as a district that working slowly and methodically towards full return,” said Tremblay to the Framingham Board of Health and interim Health Director Alex DePalo.

“But there are some challenges, we have in regards to the 6 foot rule,” said Tremblay. “DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) has been clear from the beginning of a 3 to 6 foot margin. They called it an aspirational 6 foot.”

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The Commonwealth and Commissioner Riley is pushing for all elementary students physically in the classrooms, 5-days-a-week, at 3, 4, 5 or 6-foot distancing.

“Framingham Schools we can not fit all of our elementary students back at 6 feet,” said Supt. Tremblay.

And Tremblay reminded the Framingham Board of Health the district has an “an agreement with the Framingham Teachers Association (negotiated during the summer of 2020) that provides just that restriction (of 6-foot distancing).”

On Wednesday, a study is expected to be released that shows there is no difference between 3-foot distancing and 6-foot distancing.

Tremblay described the return to the classroom of Framingham students in phases – four total – as “a very responsible and measured rollout.”

“To think we can turn this on April 5 and make it happen for all elementary school students, logistically is a problem,” said Supt. Tremblay tonight, March 8.

Tremblay said the public school district “needs some direction,” from the Health Department and the Framingham Board of Health on the elementary return plan by the state.

And Tremblay said the district needs “some time talking with the Framingham Teachers Association to see where the union is with their thinking around the 6 foot agreement and whether or not it makes sense to think about something less than 6 feet.”

The Framingham School Committee held a closed door meeting to discuss the Massachusetts Education Board 8-3 vote and Commissioner Riley’s plan last Friday night.

Framingham Teachers Association President Christine Mulroney told SOURCE “We are confident that the district & the FTA will partner to review the MOA & make adjustments to keep students & staff safe.”

The Governor said starting Thursday, March 11, teachers and other school staff are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

President Joseph Biden made K=12 teachers and childcare workers eligible for the vaccine last week, and more than tens of thousands of teachers snagged vaccine appointed at Massachusetts CVS last week.

Tremblay did say the Massachusetts DESE will grant a “limited number of waivers” on the return to in-person learning for all elementary students.

But he said he would need to see “how we are doing with contract tracing, which you know has been problematic, with some people behaving irresponsible in our community in terms with working with contract tracing nurses but also to make sure we are ready to bring more students in,” to the Board of Health last night.

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By editor

Susan Petroni is the former editor for SOURCE. She is the founder of the former news site, which as of May 1, 2023, is now a self-publishing community bulletin board. The website no longer has a journalist but a webmaster.