Ayanna Pressley calls for full remote learning across Massachusetts this fall

"Rushing to reopen our schools will directly jeopardize the lives of our students and educators."

BOSTON, MA - 01/20/2020 Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley greets audience members while atending the annual MLK Memorial Breakfast Committee, the nations longest-running event honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event hosted an audience of over 1,350 guests including business, civic, community and religious leaders.  Erin Clark / Globe Staff
Rep. Ayanna Pressley greets audience members while attending the annual MLK Day memorial breakfast this past January in Boston. –Erin Clark / The Boston Globe

As more and more school districts in Massachusetts announce that they will begin the new academic year on a remote-only basis due to the ongoing COVID-10 pandemic, Rep. Ayanna Pressley is calling for the rest of the state to follow suit.

In a statement Friday morning, Pressley said she had heard concerns from students, parents, educators, and superintendents who “overwhelmingly” resisted the idea of going back to class “before it is safe to do so.”

“Schools throughout the Commonwealth — particularly in communities hardest hit by COVID-19 like so many across the Massachusetts 7th — are not equipped with the resources, equipment, classroom facilities and staff necessary to safely reopen for in person courses,” the Boston Democrat said. “The safety and health of our children, educators and community must come first. Therefore, I believe we must begin the school year with fully remote instruction.”

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As the parent of a daughter in middle school, Pressley said she understood “the gravity of this decision and the challenges posed by remote learning for our students and their families,” which strained many parents after schools across the country shifted to the model at the onset of the pandemic this past spring.

“But rushing to reopen our schools will directly jeopardize the lives of our students and educators, and that is a risk we cannot take,” said the Massachusetts congresswoman.

Pressley’s statement comes after she held a virtual listening session Wednesday with students in her Boston-area congressional district, as well as similar calls from the two major teachers unions in Massachusetts.  According to a spokesperson, Pressley believes the decision to resume in-person classes should be based on public health data indicating that the coronavirus is under control, as opposed to a set date.

A recent survey by the Boston Teachers Union found that 87 percent of members do not currently feel safe returning to in-person teaching, with 64 percent of those surveyed at high-risk for COVID-19 themselves or living with someone who is high-risk.

Boston Public Schools is currently moving forward with a hybrid model, in which no students return to class full-time and families can opt to choose remote-only instruction. However, as Mayor Marty Walsh noted last week, no final decisions have been made.

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Despite a recent uptick in coronavirus cases both in Boston and across Massachusetts, federal and state officials have pressed for schools to physically reopen, pointing to the social and developmental importance of in-person learning.

Experts have said reopening schools should be possible in areas with relatively low COVID-19 transmission rates, albeit under strict safety protocols. Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has released extensive guidance for how districts should ensure physical distancing and proper hygiene everywhere from the classroom to the bus to the playground.

And while the Baker administration announced an additional $50 million last week to help districts and colleges cover COVID-19-related expenses, concerns have persisted about whether schools — especially those that already needed more funding — would have enough resources to cover the expensive logistics of reopening.

While there remains a partisan divide in Congress over how to allocate resources, both Republicans and Democrats have agreed that roughly $100 billion should be included in federal aid for schools in the next COVID-19 relief bill.

But after two weeks of slowly progressing negotiations, most House and Senate members headed home this week without any final agreement, due to disagreements over extending boosted unemployment benefits, as well as additional aid to state and local governments.

Pressley said Friday that the response by President Donald Trump’s administration “has been woefully negligent and inadequate.” And she believes schools will be able to reopen sooner if a relief bill is passed, according to her office.

“We must use the coming weeks to plan for equitable remote learning scenarios while we work to stabilize the public health crisis and get our schools the resources and support they would need to safely open,” Pressley said in her statement Friday. “In these extraordinarily challenging times, I’m grateful for the leadership and partnership of our school superintendents and municipal leaders, and I will remain in close contact with them as we all work to affirm the safety and success of our young people.”

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