Teachers flag concerns with in-person school restart


A group of children stood outside the State House Wednesday holding signs as parents rallied for an in-person education in the fall. (Chris Van Buskirk/SHNS)

BOSTON (SHNS) – With one day left before school districts are required to submit their reopening plans to the state, teachers’ unions are keeping up their calls for a fully remote start to the school year, creating conflict with Gov. Charlie Baker and others who have advocated for in-person instruction in some towns.

The two largest unions, the Massachusetts Teachers Associations and American Federation of Teachers of Massachusetts, have both called for schools to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by keeping their buildings physically closed for now and starting classes remotely.

The MTA on Thursday highlighted results of a poll it commissioned, which it said showed 89 percent of K-12 parents were at least somewhat concerned their child would contract COVID-19 if schools open this fall. Ninety-one percent of the parents polled said they were slightly, somewhat or extremely concerned that they or another family member would come down with the coronavirus if schools open.

Meanwhile, Boston Teachers Union members planned a Thursday protest to call for an all-remote start in the state’s largest school district.

“We’re calling on BPS to plan for a fully remote reopening to begin the school year, and a phased-in return to in-person learning,” BTU President Jessica Tang said in a statement. “We should learn from other school districts in other states who rushed to launch in-person instruction and are now dealing with multiple COVID-19 outbreaks.”

The noon car caravan from the Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and 2:30 p.m. City Hall rally come a day after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said the city’s schools would reopen in either a hybrid model or with a period of fully remote learning

Walsh and Boston superintendent Brenda Cassellius have ruled out a fully in-person model for the coming school year. “We know that there is going to be remote learning this year,” Walsh said Wednesday. “We hope that there’ll be in-person learning this year, or at least I hope that there’ll be in-person learning this year.”

Boston is currently assigned a “yellow” or moderate risk level for COVID-19 under a new state metric. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education expects communities with such a designation to open in a hybrid model, or with all-remote learning if there are extenuating circumstances.

Districts are due to file their reopening plans with the department by Friday. Local officials have been instructed to detail how they would handle in-person, remote and hybrid learning and prioritize their chosen model in the documents they submit.

Supporters of an in-person reopening have also been vocal this week. A small group of parents and their children protested outside the State House on Wednesday, where they discussed the struggles they faced with online learning in the spring and said communities where the transmission risk is low can safely bring students back.

The MTA’s online poll of 600 likely voters, conducted from July 24 to July 29 by Echo Cove Research & Consulting, found that respondents favored a phased reopening where remote teaching is used initially and in-person classes are slowly introduced.

That approach was backed by 59 percent, compared to 25 percent who agreed with public schools remaining closed and all students continuing to learn remotely, and 16 percent who thought schools should open on-schedule, with all students at their schools.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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