Mass. Teachers Association Rejects State's Return To School Guidelines

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — The President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association has rejected guidance from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which recommend teachers instruct remote classes from inside school buildings.

In a statement released Friday, MTA President Merrie Najimy said the DESE's guidance was "paternalistic and punitive, [with] no bearing on the quality of education that the real experts — the educators — provide so masterfully."

The DESE's guidelines for how schools should safely return for the fall semester were released on August 11. The guidance includes a regularly updated color-coded map, which shows each community's average rate of daily COVID-19 infections, and signifies a recommended learning model based on that localized data.

The map currently shows around 90 percent of the Commonwealth's 351 communities colored in green or unshaded. For those districts, the DESE is recommending a "full-time in-person" model of learning, or a hybrid model in the case of "extenuating circumstances."

However, many school districts like Cambridge and Boston have signaled their public school students will be at least starting the fall semester fully-remote.

Najimy said thousands of Massachusetts teachers will soon be required to instruct those completely remote classes from inside school buildings instead of their homes, "regardless of safety."

"Although some educators may prefer to work out of their school buildings and have that right if it is safe, no one teaching remotely should be required to do so from a school building," Najimy said. "The safety issues that are leading a growing number of districts to start the year remotely may include lack of adequate ventilation, lack of personal protective equipment and training on how to use it, lack of frequent testing and contact tracing, high rates of community transmission, or all of the above."

In a letter sent to Massachusetts superintendents detailing the new mapping system last week, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said the DESE's metrics should serve as a "guide" to how schools should reopen amid the pandemic, but districts are expected to follow the Department's recommendations.

Read More: State Releases COVID-19 Map To Guide School Reopening Plans

Najimy said the Department's new guidance is "clearly designed" to force local educators’ unions to agree to in-person learning, regardless of the condition of the school buildings in their districts, indoor air quality, testing capabilities, or area COVID-19 transmission rates.

Despite those unresolved problems, Najimy said the DESE had stated that teachers should be allowed to bring their own children into "these not-yet-safe school buildings" to address their child care needs; a move that "expose[s] both students and staff," which she said "must be reversed."

"The guidance also demonstrates Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s fundamental lack of trust of educators, most of whom are women," Najimy continued. "While parents entrust the lives of their children to teachers and other staff, the commissioner’s guidance implies that educators are not capable of doing their jobs without being told how — and then supervised to make sure they follow orders."

The MTA President also pointed out that millions of employees throughout the country, from Twitter to the State House to Commissioner Riley’s own agency, have been working from home successfully throughout the pandemic.

"As Governor Charlie Baker has said frequently, if you can work from home, you should work from home to reduce the transmission of coronavirus from one community to another," Najimy said. "Educators can conduct remote learning remotely."

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(Photo: Getty Images)

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