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Boston teachers mount legal challenge to in-person teaching agreement

The city's decision to continue some in-person classes, despite a positivity rate above 4%, is in violation of an agreement with the union, they argue.

Renee Simmons, a 1st-grade teacher in Boston Public Schools, wears a message on her mask while preparing for a caravan protest in Boston this past August. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

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BOSTON (AP) — Boston public school teachers on Thursday announced a legal challenge to the city’s decision to continue some in-person classes, which they allege is in violation of an agreement that requires all-remote learning if the city’s coronavirus positivity rate rises past 4%.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced Wednesday that the next phase of the schools’ reopening plan would be delayed by a week because the city positivity rate had climbed to 4.1%. Preschoolers and kindergartners who were scheduled to report to school the week of Oct. 15 instead will now start Oct. 22, Walsh said.

But he added that students who had already returned to the classroom, including those with special needs, English learners, those experiencing homelessness, and those who are in state care, would continue with in-person instruction.

The Boston Teachers Union said based on a memorandum of understanding between the union and the city, in-person work is now optional for all teachers because of the high infection rate.

The union also said it objected to a suggestion by Superintendent Brenda Cassellius that teachers could be disciplined for opting not to teach in person.

“(Boston Teachers Union will) support any educators that may face undue repercussions as a result of exercising their right to work safely and remotely now that they citywide rate is above 4%, and is much higher in many Boston neighborhoods,” the union told its members.

Walsh’s press office in a statement said the mayor believes in-person teaching is allowed under terms of the memorandum.

“The Mayor wholeheartedly believes that special consideration must be given to our highest needs students who rely on the in-person instruction and support offered by their teachers in a classroom setting, and that we cannot take this away from them when there’s an opportunity, backed by public health, to have them in schools,” the statement said.

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The teachers union cites a clause in the memorandum that reads: “If the citywide COVID-19 positivity rate rises above 4% citywide, BPS will transition to full remote learning for all students, and BTU bargaining unit members will have the option to be remote as well.”

But the mayor’s office pointed to the subsequent sentence that reads: “When the Boston Public Health Commission or other City or State authority determines that the school district can reopen, BTU bargaining unit members will be expected to return to BPS buildings.”

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