Read: Mass. Teachers Association slams state officials for ‘trying to bully’ districts engaged in remote learning

“Decisions about how learning happens are up to the educators and their unions in negotiation with their school committees.”

Classrooms are reconfigured to allow for social distancing at Boston Preparatory Charter School in Boston.
–Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Teachers Association is condemning state officials for what the union called the “bullying” of districts that are engaged in remote learning out of concerns over COVID-19.

The blistering statement was issued Wednesday by the union after state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley told lawmakers that schools in so-called “red zones” or high-risk communities are encouraged to keep in-person learning running until there is evidence of coronavirus transmission in school buildings.

Communities are designated as at high risk for COVID-19 by the state when there are at least eight daily coronavirus cases on average per 100,000 people for the previous 14 days.

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If a community decides that remote learning is the best way to ensure the health of students, families and educators, the governor, the commissioner and the education secretary need to respect that rather than resort to trying to bully its residents into compliance,” the teachers association said in its statement.

Previously, DESE advised schools in communities designated as red by the state to shift to remote learning, then updated its guidance to say schools in high-risk communities shouldn’t switch to all-remote learning until the municipality had been in the red zone for three consecutive weeks.

Read the full statement from the MTA below:

It is time for Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley and Education Secretary James Peyser to stop making assertions that are disconnected from the reality that COVID-19 remains a serious — and growing — threat to our students, our schools and our communities.

Riley, backed by Peyser, recklessly declared at a legislative hearing on Oct. 27 that public schools should maintain or move even more toward in-person learning — even in cities and towns where coronavirus infection rates remain persistently high or are rising. This follows Riley’s bullying of districts that rationally chose to start the year remotely despite facing threats of meaningless and time-wasting “audits.”

The MTA believes strongly that educators and the communities they serve should stick to the plans that they have worked on with relevant stakeholders and bargained to implement. The state guidance issued in August has not changed — and that guidance calls in large measure for remote learning in communities designated “red” for COVID-19 spread. Fortunately, neither Riley nor Peyser has the authority to compel communities to take steps that compromise the public safety. Decisions about how learning happens are up to the educators and their unions in negotiation with their school committees.

We have always questioned Governor Charlie Baker’s map-coding scheme because it fails to recognize that viral infections can easily spread among communities. We remain opposed to this system and its results. Among other failings, it ignores the fact that any school typically employs educators from multiple cities and towns.

Governor Baker and his administration first and foremost need to address the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts. Part of that work involves supporting communities in their efforts to minimize the spread of the virus.

Every single one of our members is exhausted and stressed from providing a quality education in the safest way possible. That has often involved doing in-person and remote education at the same time. Our members would like nothing more than to be back with their students in their school buildings — but only when it is safe.

If a community decides that remote learning is the best way to ensure the health of students, families and educators, the governor, the commissioner and the education secretary need to respect that rather than resort to trying to bully its residents into compliance.

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