Students, educators, and parents are working hard every day to respond to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, and AFT Massachusetts is focused on ensuring the safety of students, school staff, and our communities, while making sure that equity is prioritized in every decision. Amid the life-altering changes we’ve dealt with over the past weeks, we are grateful that DESE collaborated closely with AFT Massachusetts, our colleagues in the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and other education stakeholders to develop new guidelines for remote learning during the COVID-19 school closures.
As educators, we are glad that DESE’s guidelines share our main principles: that safety and physical/mental health must be our top priorities, and that equity needs to be a top consideration in local decision-making. The students who were most vulnerable before this crisis, including low-income students, students with disabilities, and English language learners – and especially students experiencing homelessness and food insecurity – are the most vulnerable during this time, and every decision at the local and state level needs to be made with them in mind.
We also appreciate DESE’s acknowledgement that there is no real replacement for in-person schooling, and that remote learning means much more than online learning. Local plans for remote learning must balance screen time with offline learning, including support for students to engage with resources in their everyday lives, physical and outdoor activity, arts and music, and all the other components of a well-rounded education. From nature walks and poetry-writing, to oral history projects involving grandparents and other relatives, there are many ways students can remain engaged in learning (and practice physical distancing) without staring at a screen.
Finally, we support DESE’s recommendation that academic content at the high school level, if necessary, be graded as ‘credit/no credit’ rather than with letter grades, and urge local districts to ensure that students with technology, health, disability and language challenges are not penalized due to their lack of an equitable learning experience. No student’s academic career should be permanently harmed by this crisis.