Unions say in-person learning plans not a done deal
Disputes with teachers could derail school reopenings
THE SHARON SCHOOL COMMITTEE voted to start the year with a hybrid model of education, where students will return to school in person two days a week.
Sharon teachers, however, have not yet agreed to the plan. In fact, the Sharon Teachers Association voted to only teach remotely at the start of the school year.
“They jumped ahead with a hybrid model we don’t think is educationally sound,” said Bernadette Murphy, president of the Sharon Teachers Association. Murphy said the teachers do not believe the schools are healthy and safe yet. They have not been told, for example, how the district will fix problems with ventilation or how a single school nurse will handle a child isolated with COVID-19 and other children at the same time.
A Sharon school committee member referred questions to the superintendent, who did not return a call for comment.
Sharon is not alone. Gov. Charlie Baker and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have urged all communities with a low prevalence of COVID-19 – marked green or white on a new state color-coded map – to start with some form of in-person learning. When Baker issued that guidance August 11, all but 33 communities were in that low-prevalence category.
Sharon is one of the 70 percent of school districts where officials have told the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that they plan to bring students back to school in person, at least for part of the time.
But while the state released a list of school districts’ plans on Tuesday, many of those plans have not yet been negotiated with the teachers’ unions. And unions have been pushing strongly to start the year with all-remote learning.
Teacher disputes now have the potential to derail local districts’ plans.
Nationally, the American Federation of Teachers has authorized its members to strike if they believe a local school district is reopening without proper safety precautions.
On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, and the Boston Teachers Union held a rally outside the State House calling for a remote start for the school year until certain health and safety standards have been met. Hundreds of teachers joined a car caravan and a socially distanced protest, carrying signs reading #onlywhenitssafe.
In interviews, both Najimy and AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos hesitated to use the word strike when asked if teachers could strike to avoid going back to school in person.
“Educators are saying they are anxious to be back in the building with their students. They will start working virtually until the districts can demonstrate the buildings are safe,” Najimy said.
“We always have an option for a remote start, and that’s really what we’re hoping for is a remote start until we’re sure the buildings are in the shape they need to be,.” Kontos said.
Kontos said while many communities submitted plans to start the school year with a hybrid model, “That doesn’t mean it can’t change.”
The teachers’ unions are asking for all school buildings to have adequate air transmission and ventilation; for free, rapid, on-site COVID-19 testing at schools for students and staff; and for local and state transmission rates to be under control. They want the school year to start remotely, then phase in in-person learning later in the year as their requirements are met.Baker has said he will provide more information about testing in schools this week.