Mass Legislature Passes Bill to Support Schools, Help Vulnerable Residents–Provisions address homelessness, MCAS testing requirements

Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Representative Richard M. Haggerty (D-Woburn), and Representative Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington), along with their colleagues in the Massachusetts House and Senate, passed legislation on Thursday that supports those experiencing homelessness and also provides testing and budgetary flexibility to school districts. The bill was later signed into law by the Governor on Friday, April 11.

“The Legislature has taken additional steps forward to support students and protect vulnerable populations in our Commonwealth,” said Senator Friedman. “I’m particularly pleased that this bill waives MCAS requirements for the remainder of the academic year. Our students’ routines have been disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we simply cannot expect them to participate in these exams during this time of constant change. Thank you to the Senate President and my legislative colleagues for their hard work and collaboration on this legislation.”

This latest relief package, known as An Act to Further Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities, School Districts and State authorities Resulting from COVID-19, includes the following components:

Student Requirements and District Operations. To address disruptions caused by the closure of K-12 schools due to COVID-19, the legislation waives the MCAS requirements for the 2019-2020 academic year and allows DESE to modify or waive competency determination requirements related to high school graduation.

In order to comply with measures under the newly implemented Student Opportunity Act, the legislation would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner to extend the deadlines for school districts to submit their three-year plans to address educational disparities in student subgroups.  This deadline shall be extended to May 15, 2020, or later, as determined by the Commissioner.

“If our students are fortunate enough to get back to school this year their time should not be spent on preparing for a standardized test, but rather on students’ health and continued learning,” said Representative Haggerty. “Thank you to the Woburn School Committee, teachers, and parents who contacted my office in support of waiving the MCAS requirement.”

“During this unprecedented crisis, I am pleased that we in the General Court are prioritizing those who need our help the most,” said Representative Ciccolo. “This law provides crucial supports for people in Massachusetts who are homeless.  Additionally, it gives school districts the flexibility they need to ensure that education and emotional support are the top priorities as our schools, teachers, and students develop new ways of learning.”

The legislation also provides budgetary flexibility for regional school as a result of COVID-19.

Helping Vulnerable Populations. In keeping with the Legislature’s commitment to protecting vulnerable populations, the legislation repurposes existing homelessness funds that currently support services that can’t be provided due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It redirects funding to address immediate and critical homelessness needs resulting from the public health emergency.

MBTA Budget Flexibility. The legislation also provides the MBTA additional budgetary flexibility amid the COVID-19 emergency.