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AFT Massachusetts Calls for Remote Start to School This Fall

The AFT Massachusetts Executive Board, made up of elected representatives of the 23,000 AFT members statewide, voted to call for a remote start to school this fall, citing the rising levels of COVID-19 transmission in Massachusetts, lengthy delays in obtaining test results, and the lack of hot water, adequate ventilation, and space for social distancing in school buildings.
"We miss our students terribly, and we all wish we could be back in the classroom with them. But it's become clear in the last few weeks that an in-person return to schools would unacceptably put the health and safety of our students, their families, and educators at risk. Parents, grandparents, and educators – maybe even students – would die," said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. "Community transmission of COVID-19 is on the rise again in Massachusetts, and lengthy delays in testing mean we won't know whether a sick student has the common cold or the deadly virus. In the schools AFT Massachusetts represents, especially in Boston and our Gateway Cities, years of chronic underfunding have left us with unsafe schools facilities: windows that don’t open, bathrooms that lack hot water and soap, ventilation systems that need upgrading, and nurses that treat sick students in converted closets with no room for social distancing. We've outlined a series of criteria that districts and the state must meet before it is safe for students and educators to return to the classroom, and it's clear that a period of remote learning will be necessary before those criteria are met. Now, we must focus on working with our local school teams to redesign remote learning so that it works for all students."
AFT Massachusetts is the statewide affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, and represents educators in many of the state’s major cities, including Boston, Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn. In its statement, the union cited the effective reproduction rate of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, which is currently above 1.0, meaning that the virus is spreading, not being contained. According to the COVID Act Now model developed by experts from Georgetown University and Stanford University, ‘the total number of active cases in Massachusetts is growing at an unsustainable rate.’ On Sunday, the state’s positive test rate jumped to 2.65 percent, its highest level since mid-June.
AFT Massachusetts outlined several public health and safety criteria that the union believes are necessary in order for in-person learning to resume. Read the full statement below:

Massachusetts educators miss our students, and we miss teaching them in the classroom. We want to resume safe in-person learning, and we will return to the classroom when it is safe for our students, their families, and ourselves.

Recent weeks have made it clear, however, that many of our schools are not able to open in a way that keeps students, families, and educators safe. This is a direct result of the federal government’s failure to contain the virus and make the tough choices necessary for a safe school reopening. As a society, we’ve prioritized opening bars and casinos rather than getting the virus under control, and it’s left us in this position.

Community transmission of COVID-19 is on the rise again in Massachusetts. The effective reproduction rate has risen to 1.08 not far from 1.25 that prompted the Governor to shut down the Commonwealth in March (1) . Given this data, why are we taking this risk with our children and our educators?

Lengthy delays in obtaining test results make testing relatively ineffective. In our schools, windows don’t open, bathrooms lack hot water and soap, ventilation systems need upgrading, and nurses treat sick students in converted closets with no room for social distancing.

This is especially true in our schools and communities that are predominantly Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous, where structural racism and years of disinvestment mean that students and their families have higher levels of pre-existing health conditions that put them at greater risk from COVID-19, while their schools have fewer resources to protect them.

If schools reopen without adequate safety measures, we will put the health and safety of students, their families, and educators at risk (2) . We will contribute to a resurgence of COVID-19 in our communities. Parents, grandparents, and educators – maybe even students – will die. This is unacceptable.

Our priority must be the health and safety of everyone in our schools and preventing a resurgence of COVID-19 in our communities. Therefore, school districts and the state must demonstrate that adequate health and safety conditions and negotiated public health benchmarks are met before buildings reopen.

AFT Massachusetts members will not return to unsafe school buildings until districts and the state can meet these necessary criteria to protect students, families, and educators (3).

  • Community transmission of COVID-19 is under control in the region

  • There is a public health infrastructure to support effective disease testing, surveillance, tracing and isolation in schools

  • All staff who are at high risk have access to remote work assignments

  • The district and school have funded safeguards and implemented protocols, including the below essential components:

    • 6-foot physical distancing

    • Face coverings provided by schools to all students and staff, from Kindergarten up

    • Adequate personal protective equipment provided to staff

    • Access to hand-washing facilities with consistent 100oF degree water and soap

    • Resources and staffing to clean and sanitize facilities

    • Necessary updates to ventilation and building systems to ensure safe levels of air flow

    • Adequate space for nurses to isolate potentially infected students

    • Paid sick time to ensure that no educator or staff member brings COVID-19 into school

  • AFT members and leaders, families and community partners are included in the reopening planning process

We will use the 10 additional days at the start of this school year, before instruction of students begins, to redesign remote learning with our school teams. AFT MA PreK-12 locals will return to work in a remote mode until these safety protocols are in place.

  1. R(t) is the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. If it’s above 1.0, COVID-19 will spread quickly. If it’s below 1.0, infections will slow.

  2.  Currently, in Massachusetts, 6% of cases have occurred in people younger than 19 and 58 percent of cases have occurred between the ages of 20 and 59. These are the age groups in our schools.


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