Baker backs in-person learning in most towns

Says facts, data, and science are on his side

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Friday strongly pushed back against the notion that it’s not safe to open schools this fall with some form of in-person learning, saying most communities in Massachusetts can reopen safely with students in the classroom at least some of the time.

School districts are exploring three approaches for the fall – full in-person learning, a hybrid of in-person and remote, and totally remote. The state’s teachers unions are pushing for remote learning, but Baker said that’s not warranted across the board.

“The vast majority of the communities in Massachusetts have positive test rates right now and test rates per 100,000 that are way below the Johns Hopkins numbers with respect to where you need to be to actually go to a full reopening or a hybrid,” he said at a State House press conference.

Baker said his administration next week will start reporting the positive COVID-19 test rates (positive tests as a percent of total tests) and other COVID-19 metrics for each community, so officials in those communities will know where they stand.

Baker pointed out that, when schools shifted to remote learning in March, the teachers knew their students and the students knew their teachers. This fall, he said, that won’t be the case. And he said he was very worried about trying to teach kindergartners and first, second, and third graders how to read remotely in that environment.

“Trying to teach these kids to read remotely – that’s not how you teach kids to read,” he said, noting that most reading instruction revolves around in-person, hands-on training and repetition.

He said remote learning may be warranted in some communities with higher positive test rates, but not everywhere. “The facts don’t support it, the data don’t support it and the science doesn’t support it,” he said.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association on July 30 called for remote learning until 19 conditions related to health and safety conditions and public health benchmarks are met. Merrie Najimy, the president of of the association, said it was the best approach.

“We long for the day when it is safe to return to working with our students, as there is no substitute for students and educators relating to one another in person,” she said. “But in most if not all schools right now, the health and safety concerns are insurmountable. As our members have been saying, ‘We are essential — not expendable.’”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

A number of colleges that had anticipated some form of in-person learning this fall are scaling back, going more or entirely remote. Baker said he was comfortable with the decision by UMass Amherst, in part because students would be coming from a wide geographic area. He said the situation is different at many state colleges and community colleges. He also said the state plans to sharply step up testing at colleges this fall.

Massachusetts school districts have until August 14 to submit their final plans to the state for reopening in the fall.