(WWLP) – Governor Baker announced Tuesday afternoon that schools in Massachusetts will remain closed for the remainder of the school year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy released a statement Tuesday morning urging Governor Baker to announce that schools will remain closed in Massachusetts and that remote learning will continue for the remainder of this school year.

Governor Baker made the announcement in his news conference just before 12:30 p.m. He also announced that all non-emergency childcare programs remain closed until June 29. The emergency order was issued to further prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the Commonwealth.

Emergency Child Care programs approved by Early Education and Care will continue operating. There are currently 523 emergency child care programs statewide serving families of essential workers. Weekly attendance averages about 2,500 children in these programs across the Commonwealth. EEC will continue to pay subsidies to child care providers based on their pre-COVID-19 enrollment, in order to support the workforce.

The order does not apply to residential special education schools.

According to a news release sent to 22News, in order to support families of essential workers and families with children who have special needs, EEC and Care.com have partnered to assist currently unemployed child care workers and provide skilled in-home care. Care.com is offering both eligible families and child care workers free 90-day premium memberships, accessible here.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will issue updated guidelines for schools to support remote learning efforts through the duration of the school year, including expanded STEM learning, and will prepare recommendations to strengthen summer learning opportunities for students.

The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education also announced Tuesday, they are deferring scheduled repayments for its No-Interest Loan Program for a duration of four months to support relief efforts during the public health emergency. These deferments will help approximately 12,000 students that participate in the $5 million program annually funded through the repayment of loans.

All no-interest loan accounts currently in repayment will automatically be placed in a deferment from April 2020 through July 2020. This deferment will not count toward the program’s permissible 36 months of available deferment. If a payment has already been made for April, that payment will be applied to the outstanding balance and not refunded. While accounts are in deferment, borrowers who wish to continue monthly payments may do so, without incurring late fees until July 31, 2020.

The following is the full statement from Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy:

“Out of concern for our students, families, educators and communities, MTA members are demanding that Governor Charlie Baker immediately announce that our school buildings will remain closed and that remote learning will continue in Massachusetts for the remainder of this school year. That step is essential for the health and well-being of our students and all public education staff. 

Educators and other school staff miss their students and their colleagues. They miss the structure of the school day. But keeping our students, staff, and communities safe must be our highest priority right now. It is time for the state to end the uncertainty and confusion surrounding this issue and exercise decisive leadership. 

Massachusetts has among the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the nation. We are in the middle of a surge of cases. Our entire state is an area of great concern to epidemiologists and policymakers at the state and federal levels. Against this backdrop, the governor’s suggestion last week that he may reopen schools before the end of the year, in part to administer “competency tests,” has set off a firestorm of concern among educators and parents — who believe that the priority must continue to be meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of students through remote learning.

-MTA President Merrie Najimy

The statement also stated that local school districts and higher education campuses must not lay off educators during this crisis. All staff is needed for remote learning and to prevent learning gaps from growing wider.

On March 25, Baker announced that all schools, child care programs will remain closed through May 4. As of Monday night, there are now 39,643 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, including 1,809 deaths.