Updated: Gov. Baker Orders Schools to Remain Closed Through May 4; Says Not ‘Extended Vacation’

Education Commissioner Jeff Riley: “This could be an amazing opportunity to think differently about how we educate our kids.” (Photograph by Sam Doran/SHNS.)

Schools and non-emergency child care centers in Massachusetts will now be closed until at least May 4 under a new order Gov. Charlie Baker signed Wednesday afternoon.

In the meantime, Baker said, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will work to produce in-home programming for students. Previously, schools had been ordered closed until at least April 6.

“This will allow school districts to provide the best possible opportunities for remote learning to all students,” Baker said. He added, “This is not an extended school vacation.”

Haverhill school Superintendent Margaret Marotta said her department had been preparing for such an order even though “This is new to all of us.” She said the administration continues to assess whether Haverhill families have access to the technology they need for children to learn at home.

“While we await guidance from Gov. Baker and Commissioner of Education Riley as to statewide expectations, as a school community, we will continue to support our students academically. In efforts to serve the needs of our students, we are surveying families about device availability and increasing our online learning opportunities and options,” she said in an email.

Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said his department plans to send additional guidance to school districts Thursday morning so that districts can “build upon or harmonize with their current remote learning plans” and implement their revised plans by early April.

Neither Baker nor Riley explained Wednesday what the decision to close schools through April will mean for annual MCAS testing. The Massachusetts Teachers Association has been calling for the cancellation of MCAS exams this spring and Baker on Tuesday filed a bill with the legislature that would grant Riley the authority to modify or waive the annual statewide MCAS assessment, and for the state education board to modify or waive the requirement that MCAS scores be used as part of graduation criteria.

“I think we need to wait first until we see if we get the federal waiver, which we have applied for, around testing. And then we need to wait to see if the state legislation that was sent up by the administration yesterday will grant me the authority to make such decisions,” Riley said. “You should expect that once those hurdles are cleared, that I will make decisions in short order about the MCAS.”

The teachers’ union applauded the governor’s announcement and said it believes he is following the advice of the medical experts. MTA President Merrie Najimy said her organization is “withholding judgment” on Riley’s promised remote learning guidance until it can review the plan.

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