A new memo from Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley lays out a timeline for when Massachusetts schools will be required to return to full-time, in-person learning, setting the expectation that middle and elementary schoolers will be back in classrooms next month. The memo, a copy of which was posted online by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, sets an April 5 date for elementary schoolers to be learning in-person five days a week and an April 28 date for middle schoolers. Riley said that the details and timing for returning high school students to classrooms will be announced in April, with at least two weeks' notice for districts. In announcing the dates, Riley is exercising a new authority granted to him by an 8-3 vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday. The board signed off on allowing Riley to determine when partial and full-time remote learning models would no longer count toward student learning time requirements.
The state education commissioner was granted the authority Friday to bring elementary kids back to school next month -- and to decide if hybrid and remote classes will no longer count toward learning hours. The DESE board voted 8-3 in favor of granting Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley the power to open classrooms under a plan that seeks to get all elementary children in person five days a week beginning in April. The return date for other grade levels is yet to be determined. "We are in an interesting time. We have seen our numbers go way down. We've seen the vaccines, and the promise of the vaccines go way up and we think now is the time to begin to move our children back into school more robustly," said Riley during the Friday afternoon meeting.
The state's expectation that remote teachers will work from their school classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic is getting slammed by the head of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. MTA President Merrie Najimy said the union is rejecting the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's recommendation that teachers conduct remote instruction from their school buildings. "It is paternalistic and punitive and has no bearing on the quality of education that the real experts -- the educators -- provide so masterfully," Najimy said in a statement. "This 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. "The guidance also demonstrates Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley's fundamental lack of trust of educators, most of whom are women," she added. "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." She noted that people across the country, including at DESE, have been successfully working from home during the coronavirus 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." The guidance is DESE's recommendation and still has to be negotiated with local unions, the MTA president said, adding that the MTA is "100 percent behind any of our locals that choose to reject this recommendation." "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. Riley on Friday released the guidance for teachers and critical support staff in remote learning districts, writing that having teachers in the school will benefit students, teachers, staff, and administrators for several reasons. "It allows students to develop and maintain a level of familiarity with a classroom environment, which will be beneficial when students transition back to in-person instruction," Riley wrote. "It provides more consistency for students, which is especially important for some students, including some students with disabilities.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is blasting education officials for suggesting on Tuesday that districts in the red zone should stay open until there is coronavirus transmission in school buildings. "If a community decides that remote learning is the best way to ensure the health of students, families and educators, the governor, the commissioner and the education secretary need to respect that rather than resort to trying to bully its residents into compliance," read a statement from the MTA. Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, joined by Secretary of Education James Peyser, said during a Joint Committee on Education hearing Tuesday that schools "are encouraged to remain open even if their community is red." He said such districts offering in-person or hybrid learning models should continue to remain open "until there is any evidence that there is transmission happening in a school." MTA called the declaration "reckless," saying, "Fortunately, neither Riley nor Peyser has the authority to compel communities to take steps that compromise the public safety."
Teachers unions in Massachusetts are proposing a phased reopening for schools that includes computers and internet for all, no MCAS testing and full funding for personal protective equipment. "Our schools cannot go back to the conditions under which they operated before COVID-19 or we will fail our students, families, educators and communities at the time of their greatest need," reads the proposal from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Boston Teachers Union and Massachusetts AFL-CIO. "This moment provides us with an exciting opportunity to transform public education to adapt to our new reality," the proposal says. The proposed four-phase reopening plan from the unions starts with teachers and other personnel in school buildings to make preparations, followed by educators meeting with students and families in person or remotely to go over new health and safety protocols. The next phase includes the resumption of learning in person, remote, or hybrid, with a focus on building relationships, setting expectations with students and developing new routines.