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Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at COVID-19 update on Wednesday.

Massachusetts Schools to Remain Closed Through May 4

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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BOSTON — Public and private schools will remain closed through May 4, extending the emergency closure for COVID-19 another month. 
The emergency order was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday and announced at a press conference that afternoon. The order includes child-care centers not serving essential personnel.
"This will allow school districts to provide the best possible opportunities for remote learning to all students," the governor said. "This is not an extended school vacation. During this long-term closure, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will work with school districts to further develop educational programming students can use at home. This way schools can prepare for their students return in May."
The administration is working with WGBH public television to provide educational programming during the week. Educational resources will be posted on the department's website, and middle and high school students can access WGBH and WGBY educational programming on WGBH and WGBY on the WORLD channel from noon to 5 p.m.
"We at the department will be sending out additional guidance to districts tomorrow morning," said DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. "This guidance was developed after speaking with and listening to many stakeholders in our educational community, and should be used by districts to build upon or harmonize with their current remote learning plans.
"Our expectation is that districts will be implementing these revised plans by early April."
The extension will allow time more time for teachers to ensure all students have access to resources and instruction that is customized to their particular needs such as students with special needs and English language learners. 
Riley said it was recognized that this is a traumatic time for children it was important to get them into a routine and learning and that the extended closure could offer experiences outside of the classroom. 
"This is an amazing opportunity to think about project-based learning, to think about reading a book, and think about cooking recipes and how that works. To think about starting a garden," he said. "We have a real opportunity here to do different things with our children, and we're going to try to supply the resources in addition to what the district is offering." 
He could not yet speak to how the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing would be addressed because the state was waiting on a federal waiver for applied testing and the legislation to give him authority to make a decision had been delivered to Beacon Hill on Tuesday. 
"You should expect that once those hurdles are clear that I will make decisions in short order about the MCAS," Riley said. 
Families will be sent letters about public television offerings since there are children without access to the internet. He said remote learning may refer to online learning but not necessarily. 
"We think that districts should use whatever they have at their availability to get out to kids but we want to make sure we don't penalize kids who don't have access to the internet," Riley said, adding, "this could be an amazing opportunity to think differently about how we educate our kids."

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Trail Conservancy Cautions Pandemic Care When Hiking

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Although most of the Appalachian Trail is still open, hikers are asked to practice common sense during the pandemic while on the trail or to just stay home.
COVID-19 has challenged people to find new ways to stay active while practicing social distancing and local trail volunteer Cosmo Catalano, Jr said although folks are encouraged to stay home, common sense needs to be used to maintain social distancing. 
"The AT, along with other trails on public lands provides an important resource for people to get outdoors in a healthy way," he said. "With care and common sense, it's relatively easy for people to maintain appropriate social distance and enjoy the outdoors."
Catalano said the trail organization structure is complicated and is organized by a number of entities. In Massachusetts about half the trail is on state forest lands managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The other half is on lands managed by the National Park Service.
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