AFT Massachusetts Responds to DESE Reopening Push

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At the February 23, 2021 meeting of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Commissioner Jeff Riley previewed a new phase in the Baker administration’s ongoing efforts to force schools to reopen fully, whether or not they can do so safely.

According to Commonwealth Magazine, “Riley is looking to leverage state regulations to push districts to bring students back to the classroom. Adopting an aggressive posture in a debate that has divided the education community, Riley said he’ll seek authorization to deem remote instruction time not eligible to be counted toward state-required ‘structured learning time’ hours…The power play by state officials would try to work around the strong local control of schools in Massachusetts. State leaders cannot directly mandate school reopenings, but Riley is looking to use the regulatory levers he controls to force the issue. The state education board previously amended state regulations to allow remote instruction and hybrid models to count toward the number of instruction hours mandated by state law.’

No details of the administration’s new plan were released today, other than a goal of having all elementary school students in the state back in classrooms five days a week by April. And the proposal wasn’t accompanied by any new plans to help districts with surveillance testing, ventilation upgrades, or vaccination.

AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos released the following statement in response.

“Educators share the goal of safely returning as many students to physical classrooms as possible. The way we do that is by investing in the school safety measures we've been demanding for almost a year: rapid surveillance testing, ventilation upgrades to prevent transmission, and vaccinations for educators and for our students' vulnerable family members. In districts across Massachusetts, educators are working with parents and administrators to overcome the obstacles to safe school reopening, and we've successfully reopened many school buildings for the highest-need students with proper safety measures in place. Even amid this winter's high levels of COVID-19 transmission, more than half of Massachusetts educators are now teaching in the classroom.

“But throughout the last year, our state government has prioritized indoor dining, casinos, and other venues that lead to high levels of community spread, rather than focusing on curtailing community transmission and reopening school safely with surveillance testing and ventilation upgrades. Amid the Baker administration's failed vaccine rollout, the state is the one obstacle standing in the way of the plan developed by the teachers and fire fighters unions to vaccinate educators in their local communities.

“This spring, we'll continue doing our part to reopen schools safely by implementing the mitigation measures identified by the CDC, like classroom physical distancing, increasing room air ventilation, and expanded surveillance testing. We hope the state will do its job and finally provide the resources and support local districts have lacked over the past year.”

Tell the Baker administration to approve a plan to vaccinate Massachusetts school staff and librarians!