The head of the Massachusetts teachers union is condemning new guidance for remote learning from the state during the coronavirus pandemic that says officials expect educators to teach from their classrooms, even if their district is implementing all-online instruction for the start of the school year.
Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, excoriated the updated guidelines from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that were released Friday, saying the union is “100 percent behind” any local teachers who decide to “reject” the guidance.
Najimy wrote in a statement over the weekend that the requirement that teachers conduct remote instruction from their classrooms puts educators in school buildings “regardless of safety” and took aim at Jeffrey Riley, the state’s commissioner for elementary and secondary education.
Riley, she said, should be “advocating for the resources that educators and districts need” to redesign remote instruction with the goal of a phased-in approach to in-person learning, rather than “putting the thumbscrews to teachers to get them to return to school buildings before it is safe to do so.”
“It is paternalistic and punitive and has no bearing on the quality of education that the real experts — the educators — provide so masterfully,” she wrote of the updated guidance. “This new guidance is clearly designed to force local educators’ unions to agree to in-person learning regardless of the condition of the school buildings in their districts, indoor air quality, testing capabilities or area COVID-19 transmission rates.
“The guidance also demonstrates Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s fundamental lack of trust of educators, most of whom are women,” Najimy wrote. “While parents entrust the lives of their children to teachers and other staff, the commissioner’s guidance implies that educators are not capable of doing their jobs without being told how — and then supervised to make sure they follow orders.”
The state wrote in the updated expectations that in districts opting for remote learning, having teachers and “critical support staff” working from school buildings will allow “students to develop and maintain a level of familiarity with a classroom environment, which will be beneficial when students transition back to in-person instruction.”
Officials also argued the move would provide “more consistency” for students, ensure teachers have access to reliable internet, and allow “administrators to monitor the level and amount of instruction students receive throughout the course of the school day,” according to the state. Other updates to the guidelines released Friday included letting teachers who are teaching remotely from their classrooms to “bring their own children to school with them for child care purposes, if feasible.”
In her statement, Najimy said while some educators may prefer to work out of school buildings if they are safe, no teacher should be required to do so:
The safety issues that are leading a growing number of districts to start the year remotely may include lack of adequate ventilation, lack of personal protective equipment and training on how to use it, lack of frequent testing and contact tracing, high rates of community transmission, or all of the above. Despite these unresolved problems, DESE’s guidance states that teachers should be allowed to bring their own children into these not-yet-safe school buildings to address their child care needs. This move to expose both students and staff must be reversed. It is typical that educators travel to work in a town or city from dozens of different communities. In some districts, educators come from more than 100 different municipalities — and even from other states. When they travel, COVID-19 can travel with them or their children. The needless exposure of both students and staff is a reckless approach to child care that will put entire communities at risk.
In her rebuke of the updates from the state, the union president reminded educators the recommendations are just that — not requirements.
“Like other changes in educators’ working conditions, it still has to be negotiated with the local unions,” Najimy wrote. “We are 100 percent behind any of our locals that choose to reject this recommendation.”
The Friday guidance updates were handed down as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced the city would start the school year fully remote, with a four-phase approach through the fall to gradually return to part-time in-person instruction.