Gov. Charlie Baker issued an executive order today to increase child care options for families with students in hybrid or remote learning when schools reopen in September, a growing issue of concern across the state.

The executive order adds a new municipal responsibility to inspect and approve “remote learning enrichment programs.”

The governor’s order provides three new options to increase child care settings for school-aged children.

First, the order authorizes the Department of Early Education and Care to expand the services that can be offered by currently licensed school-aged child care programs, allowing these entities (such as YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs and other entities) to serve students during the normal school day, in addition to their existing extended-day or after-school programs.

Second, the order authorizes “Remote Learning Parent Cooperatives,” allowing up to five families to coordinate the supervision of their school-aged children during the school day, as long as a parent is present at all times. Parent cooperatives must follow the state’s restrictions on gatherings, cannot employ a teacher or professional without a parent present, and are “strongly encouraged” to follow the Department of Early Education and Care and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education health and safety guidelines to the extent feasible.

Third, the order allows the Department of Early Education and Care to waive state licensure requirements for “Remote Learning Enrichment Programs” offered by private entities, as long as these programs receive approval from the municipality in which they are located, and follow state guidelines jointly set by the Department of Early Education and Care and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

It is the third aspect of the executive order that will impact cities and towns, as it places a new responsibility on municipalities to review, inspect and approve the Remote Learning Enrichment Programs before they can be authorized to open by the Department of Early Education and Care.

The Department of Early Education and Care and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have published guidance for obtaining a Remote Learning Enrichment Program license exemption, available on the state’s website at this link. Preliminary indications are that cities and towns will be responsible for:
• Confirming that the entity will maintain a 1:13 ratio of staff members to children, and maintain a maximum group size of 26, following the state’s physical distance requirement
• Completing a CORI, SORI and DCF child welfare check for all staff members, volunteers and adults who will be around children
• Confirming that the facility has received an up-to-date fire, lead paint, and any other applicable building inspection
• Confirming that the children attending are enrolled in public or private school, in kindergarten or above
• Receiving a self-attestation from the entity that it will follow all Department of Early Education and Care and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education health and safety guidance requirements

Entities will only be allowed to apply for a state license exemption after they have first received a local approval.

While the Department of Early Education and Care and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidance will allow cities and towns to determine their own process for approving local Remote Learning Enrichment Program entities, the state will also require cities and towns to monitor these programs on an ongoing basis.

The MMA expects that cities and towns will be identifying a number of issues, questions and concerns regarding this new mandate. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will be sending an FAQ document to school districts this week, and the MMA will be monitoring this matter closely to identify answers and advocate for adequate resources for communities.