A message from the
Massachusetts Department of
Elementary and Secondary Education

August 16, 2021
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News from Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education


  1. DESE/DPH Protocols for Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios
  2. COVID-19 Testing Program
  3. Information for School Health Offices
  4. Picture of the Week: Skills Capital Grants
  5. State Seal of Biliteracy Update
  6. Leveraging Technology to Strengthen Student Learning
  7. August and September Safe Kids Thrive! Trainings
  8. Strategies to Support Student Access to Above Grade-Level Material
  9. Teacher Diversification Professional Learning Community Update
  10. Teacher Diversification Pilot Program Grant Due Date Extended
  11. Supplemental Low-Income Data Collection Forms Available in Security Portal
  12. For Your Info: Toolkit for an equity-focused pandemic recovery

1. DESE/DPH Protocols for Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios: 

On Friday, August 13, DESE sent school and district leaders an email message with protocols for responding to COVID-19 scenarios. The document was developed in consultation with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and is intended for use by school health professionals, COVID-19 site leaders, and others who will be involved in the day-to-day management of testing and quarantine at the district and school levels. As always, we will monitor the public health situation and may issue additional guidance as needed.
Highlights of the guidance include:
  • A new Test and Stay program will allow asymptomatic close contacts to remain in school and participate in sports and extracurriculars so long as they take a rapid antigen test daily, wear a mask, and follow other guidelines as noted in the document.  
  • The list of close contacts who are exempt from testing and quarantine protocols has been updated to include individuals on school buses, when students are masked with windows open, regardless of distancing. 
  • The COVID-19 symptoms list has been updated (with more symptoms being identified as COVID-19 symptoms only when "in combination with other symptoms"), along with some points of differentiation in COVID-19 symptoms necessitating a PCR test for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. 
  • Weekly COVID pooled testing remains strongly recommended for unvaccinated individuals. Vaccinated individuals may still participate at their discretion; however, this is not recommended. 
As a reminder, all health and safety requirements issued by DESE from the previous school year have been lifted, and all schools are required to be in-person full-time, five days per week. The guidance issued on July 30 for the fall strongly recommends that districts and schools implement masking for unvaccinated individuals and notes that masking on buses for all individuals is a current federal requirement for all schools and districts. In addition, DESE and DPH continue to encourage schools to maintain ventilation upgrades from this past year as feasible, continue hand hygiene practices, and extend policies for students and staff to stay home when sick.  

2. COVID-19 Testing Program:

On Wednesday, August 11, DESE, in collaboration with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, announced the SY22 statewide COVID-19 Testing Program. Following a competitive procurement process, EOHHS and DESE are making diagnostic and routine (weekly) COVID-19 pooled testing services available at no cost to participating districts and schools through the end of the 2021-22 school year under a single contract with the testing provider CIC Health. All K-12 districts and schools, including private and parochial schools, are strongly encouraged to participate in this initiative. Districts must apply through the Authorized School Application to be included in the program. The Department will accept applications on a rolling basis, and districts are encouraged to apply by the priority deadline of Friday, August 20.

3. Information for School Health Offices:

On Thursday, July 29, the Department of Public Health posted an updated Information for School Health Offices document. The guidance is of particular importance to school nurses and includes updated information on the following subjects:
  • Proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Nurse’s offices and medical waiting rooms;
  • Key health office protocols needed during COVID-19;
  • Procedures for working with specific populations, including students with special health care needs and students who require aerosol-generating procedures; and
  • Working with and communicating with local boards of health.
Governor Baker and two students

4. Picture of the Week:

On Monday, August 16, Gov. Baker, Lt. Gov. Polito, Education Secretary James Peyser, and other members of their administration visited Peabody Veterans Memorial High School to announce $9.7 million in grants from the Skills Capital Grant Program to 47 educational organizations. Gov. Baker met culinary students as he toured the high school, which received a $175,000 award last year and a $125,000 award announced today. Congratulations to all the grant recipients! 

5. State Seal of Biliteracy Update:

The Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy recognizes students who demonstrate proficiency in English and at least one other language. State law requires students to demonstrate their proficiency in English through the Grade 10 English Language Arts (ELA) MCAS. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some students in the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021 did not have sufficient access to the ELA MCAS, and the legislature has temporarily permitted the Commissioner to “establish an alternative means of demonstrating English language proficiency for the state seal of biliteracy for students in the class of 2020 or 2021.” In accordance, graduates in the classes of 2020 and 2021 who have earned the modified competency determination in ELA satisfy the English language criterion for the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. School districts can now retroactively award the State Seal of Biliteracy to class of 2020 and 2021 graduates who meet all three of the following requirements: 
  1. earned the modified competency determination in English language arts, 
  2. earned a score of intermediate high or higher on a DESE-approved world language assessment, and 
  3. satisfied all other graduation requirements. 
For further information, email or see the Seal of Biliteracy website.

6. Leveraging Technology to Strengthen Student Learning

In partnership with Google and EdTechTeacher, DESE is providing free professional development on the effective use of educational technology. Interested educators and system leaders can learn more and register for the summer workshop series here. The following workshops are available on Monday, August 23:
  • Building Traditional & Creative Digital Assessments: This session will explore how educators can use tools in Google Workspace for Education to create customized assessment experiences that are responsive to student ability, choice, and creativity. Register here.
  • Student Reflection & Digital Portfolios to Capture Learning: This session will focus on how educators can create digital portfolios that capture student work and students’ reflections on their learning in multiple modalities that can be used as evidence of growth over time. Register here.

7. August and September Safe Kids Thrive Trainings:

The Department and Children’s Trust are offering a Safe Kids Thrive training for preK-12 district and school administrators. Participants in this 90-minute interactive workshop will learn how to identify concrete ways that schools can evaluate and develop policies, procedures, and protocols to prevent child sexual abuse. Using a new website called "Safe Kids Thrive," presenters will demonstrate practical and straightforward tools attendees will use to assess or create a proactive approach to prevent child abuse. The training will be offered at 9:00-10:30 a.m. on Thursday, August 26 and at 7:30-9:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 30. Please register online.

8. Strategies to Support Student Access to Above Grade-Level Material:

As the new school year approaches, DESE knows that districts, schools, and educators are busy planning how they will assess and meet the needs of their students. While the focus this year will be on providing all students access to standards-aligned instruction and the culturally responsive support they need to be successful in their grade level, some students’ learning needs may require access to above-grade-level material and experiences. Strategies to support access to above-grade-level material may include enrollment in classes with older peers for certain subjects and grade skipping, both of which are allowed under Massachusetts law. Anyone who would like more information about this can email Thomas Zorich, director of DESE’s Center for Strategic Initiatives.

9. Teacher Diversification Professional Learning Community Update:

The Department’s Teacher Diversification Professional Learning Community will support and enhance schools’ and districts’ understanding of the components needed to implement a comprehensive talent diversification strategy centered on cultural proficiency. The learning community will hold monthly virtual sessions from October 2021 through June 2022. This initiative will support up to 100 schools and districts and is open to charter schools, career/vocational technical education schools, and traditional school districts. School and district teams should be comprised of the following representatives: 
  • One teacher representative (if scheduling permits) 
  • One principal representative (if scheduling permits) 
  • A human resource director or assistant director 
  • A diversity, equity, and inclusion director (or similar position) 
  • A district office leader (to be identified by the superintendent or executive director) 
Interested charter schools, career/vocational technical education schools, and school districts must complete the interest form by Friday, September 17. Anyone with questions about this opportunity can email the Center for Strategic Initiatives at ​for additional information.

10. Teacher Diversification Pilot Program Grant Due Date Extended:

The due date for the FY22 Teacher Diversification Pilot Program Grant has been extended to Friday, September 17. The grant is designed to support school and district efforts to strengthen and diversify existing teacher recruitment and retention programs and is open to all districts, charter schools, and career/vocational technical education schools.  
In addition to receiving financial support, schools and districts awarded grant funding will participate in the Teacher Diversification Professional Learning Community ​(see above), a yearlong professional learning community centered around race, identity, and cultural proficiency. Anyone with questions is invited to email the Center for Strategic Initiatives at

11. Supplemental Low-Income Data Collection Forms Available in Security Portal:

Under the Student Opportunity Act, DESE is required to identify eligible students with household incomes of up to 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) for the purpose of determining Chapter 70 aid. The Department has posted Supplemental Low-Income Data Collection Forms that districts and charter schools can use to claim students who qualify as low-income under the 185 percent FPL standard but who have not been identified through a match with state public assistance program databases. The forms are now available through the DESE Security Portal in the SIMS File Exchange drop box. In addition to English, the drop box includes versions in Chinese, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The Department encourages districts and charter schools to customize the form by using their own letterhead and inserting the district’s or charter school’s name and point of contact information in the places provided on the form, but the text in the form and the required documentation cannot be changed. Districts and charter schools are not required to participate in the supplemental process, and families’ participation is voluntary. Please email with any questions.

12. For Your Info:

  • Toolkit for an equity-focused pandemic recovery: The Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership has released a web-based toolkit, Keeping Equity at the Forefront: Pandemic Recovery, which highlights ways that districts and schools can leverage federal and state funding to meet the needs of students, families, and educators now and catalyze longer-term improvement in learning experiences and outcomes. The site includes recommendations for actions education leaders can take, questions advocates can ask of education leaders, and additional resources.
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