Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker expressed his concerns Friday about the impact of remote-only instruction on young students, particularly those learning to read.
The comments were made during the governor’s press conference to provide updates on the coronavirus outbreak and followed his announcement that he would slow measures in the state’s reopening out of concern over an uptick in cases seen recently.
Given the updates, Baker was asked by a reporter if it was time to “pull the plug” on in-person classes this fall for school districts across the state, which have been tasked with submitting three school reopening plans — all remote, a hybrid model, and full in-person classes — to the state by Monday.
“Everybody needs to have all of them because they may need them at some point during the year,” he said.
The governor said it’s important for districts to prepare for each scenario, which could be implemented depending on the specific circumstances each community is facing, but shared his own concerns about the impacts of reopening on a remote-only basis, saying he doesn’t believe the “facts” or “data” support making schooling remote across the board.
“When we went to remote back in March, all those kids and all those teachers knew each other,” Baker said. “You’re talking about, for anybody who opens remote straight out of the gate, you’re talking about a bunch of kids and a bunch of teachers who won’t know each other at all. And honestly if you think about kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, the grades that, generally speaking, most of the tests and the studies that have been done make pretty clear are those least likely to be infected in the first place, trying to teach those kids how to read remotely — I mean, that’s not how you teach kids how to read. You teach kids how to read phonetically with repetition and individualized attention.”
The Swampscott Republican emphasized the importance of communities examining their local data on COVID-19 cases and stressed that many areas of the state are in “very good shape” when it comes to the rate of infection.
“If you look at the data across most communities in Massachusetts, there’s plenty of opportunity there based on the science and what we know for them to consider reopening in some way, in person,” Baker said. “And I really do worry about kids who are going to be dealing with classmates they don’t know, if they’re full remote, and with teachers that they don’t know and with teachers who don’t know them. And I’m deeply concerned about the issues associated with kids who actually need to learn how to read. We’ve talked a lot about the fact that kids need to read at a certain level by the time they get to third, to fourth grade. The way we teach kids how to read, historically, has been very much an in-person and hands-on activity.”
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