Massachusetts Schools Commissioner Will Try To Force Schools To Reopen Over Teachers Union Objections

Massachusetts is looking to reopen schools to five days a week in-person instruction by the end of April, and a state school board just took a step toward making that a reality.

“The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday afternoon voted to give Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley the authority to determine when hybrid and remote learning no longer count,” MassLive reported.

Riley told the school board last month that he wanted the authority to send students back to school even as teachers unions across the country have opposed the move, even though science says schools are not at risk for transmitting the coronavirus.

“We think now is the time to begin to move our children back into school more robustly,” Riley said last month.

Riley said Friday that he already had an approach to phase-in a return to in-person instruction and that he hopes children in kindergarten through fifth grade could return to full class participation by April 5. Middle and high school students would return to the classroom at a later date.

More from MassLive:

While about 80% of districts in Massachusetts have at least some form of in-person learning as of February, about 300,000 students are enrolled in districts that are currently fully remote, education officials have said.

The push to return to traditional schooling is controversial. Education officials have urged districts to bring children back into classrooms as concerns about learning loss, isolation and deteriorating mental health have grown through the pandemic.

Teachers unions have argued that schools are not yet safe enough to reopen, insisting educators must be vaccinated and students need to be able to properly distance before students return to the classroom. As MassLive reported, education employees can get a COVID-19 vaccine starting next week. As for social distancing, the state minimum is 3 feet, which may be difficult for some urban schools to achieve. The 6-foot minimum was an arbitrary recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with no science to explain the reasoning.

In addition, parents would retain the option to keep their children learning remotely for the rest of the school year, and districts will be able to obtain a waiver allowing them to remain partially closed.

Despite these accommodations and the science, teachers unions continue to oppose a return to in-person teaching. Somerville Teachers Association President Rami Bridge spoke at the school board meeting that granted Riley the authority to end remote learning, urging the board to keep schools closed.

“We know what’s best for our community and commissioner Riley does not,” Bridge said. “We stand together for our students. It is your job to also stand together for our students.”

Bridge ignored the evidence that keeping kids out of school is causing increased mental illness and suicides among the youth.

Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) praised the vote in a statement.

“Learning in the classroom is the best and safest place for students to be with proper safety protocols, and our administration is pleased that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education took this step to get more kids back into the classroom,” Baker said. “The data is clear that students learning in the classroom can be done safely and it is vital to their emotional and intellectual health. We are grateful for the Board’s support and look forward to getting all students back to in person learning soon.”

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