A message from the
Massachusetts Department of
Elementary and Secondary Education

March 22, 2021
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News from Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education


  1. Graduation Guidance
  2. Picture of the Week: Welcoming Students Back
  3. New FAQs
  4. Survey on Summer Programming
  5. Medicaid 101
  6. LearnLaunch Workshop on Returning to School
  7. CTE Partnership Planning Grants
  8. Accelerated and Regular Early College Designation Process
  9. Distinguished Educators Sought
  10. PD Provider Registry
  11. Student Government Day 2021
  12. Safe Routes to School

1. Graduation Guidance:

The Department of Labor Standards, in consultation with the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, recently issued guidance on commencements and graduations. The guidelines allow for graduations to be held indoors or outdoors, but only when the conditions outlined in the guidance are met, including physical distancing, mask wearing, limiting the number of guests, and other measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Spider-Man and a kindergartner

2. Picture of the Week:

The Amazing Spider-Man greeted students at Lt. Elmer J. McMahon School in Holyoke on Monday, March 22, the district's first day of hybrid classes for grades 3-5. Kindergartners like this one returned four days a week in late February. (Photo courtesy of Holyoke Public Schools)

3. New FAQs:

The Department is releasing a new installment of frequently asked questions related to COVID-19 and in-person learning. The March 22 installment addresses outdoor recess, guidelines for vaccinated individuals, who needs to wear a mask at school, and how the travel order change impacts school policies. The document will be posted on DESE’s COVID-19 FAQ page.

4. Survey on Summer Programming:

The Department is considering offering grant opportunities to districts and schools to provide students with engaging, standards-aligned summer programs to help accelerate learning. For example, one potential grant would be for a one-week Summer Acceleration Academy that would take place right before the start of the 2021-2022 school year. To help DESE determine if districts and schools are interested in such grants and to determine how the programs would fit into schools’ and districts’ current summer plans, please complete this short survey.

5. Medicaid 101:

MassHealth is offering a Medicaid 101 training series to provide foundational information about the School-Based Medicaid Program (SBMP) in a series of modules focused on specific audiences at each local education agency. UMass Medical School, on behalf of MassHealth, will offer live webinar presentations of each training module, and the videos will be posted on the SBMP website. (Individuals can also sign up to be notified when the trainings are posted to the website.) Local education agencies (LEAs) (schools and districts) can identify appropriate staff for any of the modules. Collaboratives and approved special education schools are welcome to join any of the modules, but modules 1 and 8 will be most applicable. Details on the series and links to registration are as follows:

6. LearnLaunch Workshop on Returning to School:

LearnLaunch, in collaboration with DESE, will offer a workshop on “Returning with Strong Relationships and Routines” to help school and district leaders welcome students and teachers back to an in-person model by rebuilding relationships and integrating students into the school social environment. Through discussion of examples and concrete strategies, participants will develop a vision for safe, joyful, and transformative spaces for both students and teachers through June. These workshops will be held at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 6; Thursday, April 8; and Tuesday, April 13Register here and explore the Engage Learners Building Block tool.

7. CTE Partnership Planning Grants:

The Department’s Office for College, Career, and Technical Education is pleased to announce the creation of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Partnership Planning Grants (fund code 405). These federally funded, competitive grants are designed to support the expansion or development of CTE programs and initiatives that increase student access to CTE opportunities. Eligible students include secondary and other students served under the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.
Applicants have their choice of two timelines for the grant, and applications for the earlier of the two are due at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 9.

8. Accelerated and Regular Early College Designation Process:

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Higher Education are accepting applications for an Accelerated Designation for Massachusetts Early College programs. This application is intended for K-12 and public higher education partners that, despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19, have fully developed Early College programs and are positioned to meet all of the requirements for a September 2021 Early College Designation.
The two parts of the application, and the specific requirements to meet the Accelerated Designation are available here:  The Accelerated Designation application is due Monday, April 26.
For programs that are still in planning stages of implementation of their Early College programs, the regular Designation process will open in May 2021, which would allow programs to apply for Designation in time for fall 2022.  The timeline for this process, including the April 14 Early College Program Spring Convening on Wednesday, April 14, is here, and the application will be available by May.

9. Distinguished Educators Sought:

The Department recognizes distinguished teachers and principals throughout the Commonwealth through its Distinguished Educator Recognition Program. The Department may consider these educators for advisory boards, task forces, and special recognition programs.
This year, DESE is gathering information about distinguished sixth- through twelfth-grade educators, and the agency invites people to recommend distinguished, early- to mid-career secondary classroom teachers, specialists, and/or principals who have:
  • demonstrated effective practices that promote deeper learning;
  • shown leadership beyond the classroom;
  • made contributions to education that are largely unheralded yet worthy of the spotlight, and
  • shown strong potential for professional and policy leadership.
Please submit a confidential recommendation by Friday, April 16. In particular, DESE hopes to elevate the voices of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and other educators of color, and members of other historically marginalized groups. Please email any questions about this program to

10. PD Provider Registry:

The Department is pleased to announce the 2021 Spring Professional Development Provider (PD) Registry Application for providers interested in becoming approved and added to DESE’s online registry, those seeking approval for additional content areas, and those who need to renew their three-year approval status. The Department welcomes a variety of new and continuing providers, i.e., professional organizations, non-public schools, not-for-profit organizations, private and for profit organizations, individuals, educational partnerships, corporations, educational agencies, and associations whose PD programs demonstrate characteristics of the Massachusetts Standards for High Quality Professional Development.
The online application will be available from Wednesday, March 17 through Wednesday, April 21 at Resources & Tools for Providers page. Applications will be reviewed starting Thursday, April 22 in order of receipt, with an expected turnaround time of one to two months. Providers are encouraged to consider providing online PD opportunities. Anyone with any questions about the PD registry application can email

11. Student Government Day 2021:

Traditionally, Student Government Day is held at the Massachusetts State House, but the event will take place via Zoom this year on Friday, May 21. Students will hear from members of the executive, judiciary, and legislative branches and will be assigned to breakout rooms to dive deeper into the inner workings of state government in an open discussion with facilitators.
Registration for Student Government Day occurs on a first-come, first-served basis through Friday, April 30. Schools may register up to FOUR students who are either juniors or seniors, as well as one faculty advisor. Advisors/teachers may choose to project the session in an open area to engage additional students, provided this is done with the appropriate social distancing.

12. Safe Routes to School:

As districts work on transportation plans to bring more students into school buildings, MassDOT’s Safe Routes to School Program remains a resource. The program encourages elementary and middle school students to safely walk or bike to and from school, and schools can request resources such as walking school buses (as mentioned in DESE’s recently updated transportation guidance), participation in events that promote walking and biking to school, and more.
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