The Massachusetts Teachers Association is demanding the immediate closure of schools across the state to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
In a statement on Friday, MTA President Merrie Najimy called for all public schools to close for two weeks to make a “significant and consistent impact on the spread of COVID-19” and to plan for possible longer closures. She also called for the cancellation of MCAS tests in the spring.
“This is a time for consistency, leadership and urgent action at both the state and national levels – qualities that have been sorely lacking so far during the coronavirus crisis,” she wrote. “Now is the time for decisive action to protect students, families, educators and everyone else in our communities. We demand that it be taken.”
While a state of emergency has been declared in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has said the Department of Public Health is not recommending the statewide closure of schools. He said the decision on whether or not to close is being left to district leaders, based on the specific circumstances within their community.
“People should be making those decisions based on the facts associated with their school,” Baker said of leaving the decision to district and school leaders on Friday.
In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh — after initially indicating schools would remain open — announced Friday that the city’s schools would be closed starting March 17, with plans to re-open the week of April 27.
In her letter, Najimy pointed out that already there has been widespread closing of public schools.
“More is needed,” she wrote. “The piecemeal approach is ineffective. We must take action on a statewide basis to protect students, educators, and the health of Massachusetts families.”
Read the full statement from the MTA below:
For the good of students, educators and our communities, the MTA is calling today for all public schools in the Commonwealth to shut down immediately for two weeks, while preparing for a longer closure if necessary. This urgent step is needed to make a significant and consistent impact on the spread of COVID-19, which we all know is a potentially deadly virus.
Already, we are seeing widespread closings of public schools as preK-12 districts work to follow the guidelines set forth by public health officials to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But more is needed. The piecemeal approach is ineffective. We must take action on a statewide basis to protect students, educators, and the health of Massachusetts families.
We fully recognize the impact this will have — and it is a step that we do not take lightly. Furthermore, closing schools requires a series of supportive measures. As it occurs, we are calling on cities, counties and the state to develop social safety nets that will ensure the ongoing well-being of everyone in our Commonwealth.
The state must assist communities in making sure that all children who rely on schools for access to food will still have a way to receive meals. Our government must also set up financial assistance for families when caretakers and parents need to stay home with children.
After two weeks, the closure can be revisited — and either extended or ended, as dictated by imperative health needs.
Where our public colleges and universities are concerned, we need to take similarly substantive measures to ensure the health, safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff. We call for the cancellation of on-campus classes for the rest of the spring term and time to allow for preparation for the one-time emergency use of remote learning. In addition, the state must make provisions to care for college students who are housing or food insecure.
As these steps are taken, all school and college employees – regardless of whether they are salaried, contingent or paid hourly – must continue to receive paychecks when their workplaces modify the way they operate. All educators, including Education Support Professionals and adjunct faculty members, must be given full access to critical benefits, including coronavirus testing, affordable health insurance and paid family and medical leave. They must receive whatever care they need to stay healthy and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Many of our higher education members are already being asked to deliver courses online. These educators need the technology, training and other supports to make this endeavor successful for students. They must also have the other resources required to maintain a productive teaching and learning environment.
Finally, the MTA is calling for cancellation of the MCAS tests this spring. Our students and educators are experiencing an extraordinary public health crisis and an incredible amount of stress. Removing the mandate of testing will allow for the flexibility necessary to balance the education and health needs of our students, families and communities.
This is a time for consistency, leadership and urgent action at both the state and national levels – qualities that have been sorely lacking so far during the coronavirus crisis. Now is the time for decisive action to protect students, families, educators and everyone else in our communities. We demand that it be taken.