“These guidelines defy common sense, and if implemented, would put educators and our communities at risk unnecessarily. If a local community has determined that it is unsafe for students to return to their classrooms due to high levels of COVID-19 transmission, inadequate building ventilation, or other health and safety concerns, it is certainly not safe for educators – or their own children – to return to the same classrooms to teach.
“Many districts across the state are beginning school remotely and using that time to upgrade building ventilation systems, reconfigure classrooms, and make other health and safety improvements that are necessary for students to return to the classroom. Forcing educators into the classroom prematurely will lengthen the time it takes to complete this critical work, further postponing the day when it is safe to resume safe in-person learning – our ultimate goal.
"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 outlined several public health and safety criteria that the union believes are necessary in order for in-person learning to resume.
In the same way that the state is taking a deliberate and careful approach to reopening the economy, the state must take an equally deliberate and careful approach to reopening our public schools. We are advocating for phased reopening that will consist of four separate phases.
Having spent approximately 25 percent of the 2019-2020 school year in crisis mode and learning remotely, all of our students — regardless of socioeconomic status or race — will be coming back with social, emotional and academic needs that we don’t yet fully understand. The nearly 390,000 students whose families are at 185 percent of the federal poverty level under the Student Opportunity Act will have even more acute trauma than they carried before the pandemic. The intersection of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement compels us to examine and dismantle structures of racism and classism in society and in the institution of public education. Our schools cannot go back to the conditions under which they operated before COVID-19 or we will fail our students, families, educators and communities at the time of their greatest need. This moment provides us with an exciting opportunity to transform public education to adapt to our new reality.
Like so many others across America, AFT Massachusetts teachers and school support staff are putting aside their own fears during the COVID-19 pandemic to help maintain a sense of normalcy for their students. One big area of focus for AFT Massachusetts members is food security.
“For many of our students, school is the one place where they can count on a full meal every day. With schools closed, AFT Massachusetts members across the state are working hard to make sure that our students, their families, and the whole community have the food they need,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “I’m incredibly proud of the work AFT Massachusetts members are doing to support all our students during this challenging time.”
In Lowell, educators have focused on supporting the Merrimack Valley Food Bank (MVFB), which distributes food to 64,000 people each month through food pantries, shelters, schools, and senior centers.
United Teachers of Lowell President Paul Georges reiterated to all, “Many of our citizens have relied on food banks and the generosity and consideration of others in getting through this extremely difficult time. The neighbors at this event and all the Union volunteers are addressing a real need in our community to help alleviate some of the anxiety people deal with on a daily basis. I never cease to be amazed at the generosity of our members.”
“When LTU gave me the opportunity to volunteer at the Mobile Market I didn’t hesitate. Everyone is struggling right now but I can’t imagine how much worse it would be to try and manage my children if they were scared and hungry,” said Kimberly Senko, a 4th & 5th grade Special Education Teacher at the John K. Tarbox Elementary School. “I am a teacher but I worry about more than my students’ ability to read and write. My job requires me to partner with families to ensure students are safe, healthy, and they have the social emotional support they need to manage their emotions. Volunteering at the Mobile Market was one way to show families that Lawrence teachers are invested in the community and ready to support their children.”
The big takeaway from the April 24 guidance is that DESE is now asking districts to go beyond reinforcing previously taught content to also cover new content that is focused “on those standards that are the most critical prerequisites for student success in the next grade." DESE has compiled guides to these prerequisite content standards for math, English language arts, science, and history/social studies - elementary guide and secondary guide.
The focus on teaching DESE-selected prerequisite standards—or what some are calling “essential” or “power” standards—in a remote learning environment is a shift in DESE policy, and it has significant implications. As remote learning continues, perhaps even into parts of next year, this was an inevitable development. Many districts are already teaching new content, and expectations are mounting to advance the curriculum so that students don’t fall further behind in their academic learning.
“The educators of AFT Massachusetts appreciate the House and Senate’s passage of legislation to waive this year’s MCAS requirement,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “We are glad Governor Baker signed the bill immediately so that students and educators can focus on staying healthy and learning during this crisis, rather than worrying about test prep.”
“Let teachers and students focus on staying healthy and problem-solving to sustain our education system and not have to worry about test prep,” read the petition circulated by Citizens for Public Schools and signed by more than 4,000 individuals. “Test-related funding that can be re-allocated should be spent on more urgent relief for schools and vulnerable students at this critical time.”
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.
AFT Massachusetts is focused on the health and safetly of our members, communities and students.
On July 13th, AFT Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Boston Teachers Union released a joint set of reopening proposals for the reopening of our public schools. In the same way that the state is taking a deliberate and careful approach to reopening the economy, the state must take an equally deliberate and careful approach to reopening our public schools. We are advocating for a phased reopening that will consist of four separate phases.