Union pushing ‘no confidence’ votes in ed commish Riley
THE DEBATE OVER whether to reopen schools for in-person instruction is turning into an all-out war by the state’s largest teachers union against state education commissioner Jeff Riley.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is encouraging its local chapters to adopt votes of “no confidence” in Riley’s leadership in the face of a renewed push by Riley and state leaders for schools to reopen.
MTA president Merrie Najimy led a Zoom meeting last night attended by several hundred union members in which the no confidence motion was front and center. To date, four MTA locals — Westford, Haverhill, Malden, and Melrose — have adopted the declaration. “We have no confidence in the judgment or professional leadership capabilities of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and its Commissioner Jeff Riley,” it reads.
Earlier this month, Riley, Gov. Charlie Baker, and Education Secretary Jim Peyser urged districts to resume in-person learning as the state restructured its formula for determining COVID-19 risk. Under the revamped formula, officials said, only Chelsea, Lawrence, and Revere have positive test rates high enough to warrant fully remote classes.
Baker and top education officials have argued that schools have not been shown to be a source of COVID-19 transmission. Meanwhile, they say, students who were already struggling academically will pay the steepest price from continued remote learning.
“Data collected from school districts across the US, of which we now have several months’ worth, shows schools can open and operate safely in person,” Baker said at a November 6 briefing.
“We know nothing can take the place of in-person instruction,” said Riley. “The time to get kids back to school is now.”
Baker and Riley were joined at the briefing by Dr. Mary Beth Miotto, vice president of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who backed the safety of in-person learning, while also highlighting the downsides of ongoing remote learning for children.
Riley has long pursued a path of working with unions, not battling them.
When he was put in charge of the state-ordered takeover of the chronically low-performing Lawrence public schools, Riley had sweeping power over district personnel — he has said some urged him to fire all the teachers and start over. But he elected to retain 90 percent of the teaching staff and focused instead on bringing in new principals, saying the teachers had suffered under poor leadership. His collaborative approach even earned a visit from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
But he has run head first into leaders of the MTA who have taken a more combative approach toward state education officials in recent years. The union is pushing to upend the state’s education accountability system, and it is now going hard at Riley over his call to reopen schools.
In a statement Wednesday morning, Riley lit into the union. “As local school committees, superintendents, parents and students have experienced, the MTA‘s leadership has gone to absurd lengths to deny the scientific evidence that in person learning is safe and backed by the medical community,” he said. “While the union engages in baseless attacks, we remain committed to children’s education and the best interests of staff, students and families.”
Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, questioned whether the MTA move might backfire.
“I think it’s counterproductive,” he said. “Sometimes when you attack someone you not only demonize the target, but you demonize yourself. I think everybody pretty much sees this for what it is — an opportunity to kick the nearest shin. It may actually make their target look better.”
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FROM AROUND THE WEB
Gov. Charlie Baker said Northeast governors are rethinking their plans for a Transportation Climate Initiative that would put a carbon tax on wholesale fuel, a levy that would make its way to consumers in higher retail gas prices. (Boston Herald)
Mayor Marty Walsh urged Bostonians to spend Thanksgiving with only members of their household, and he urged college students who go home for the holiday to finish the rest of the semester remotely and not return to the city. (Boston Globe)
A Boston Herald editorial questions the Boston City Council’s focus on curbing police overtime at a time of soaring gun violence in the city.
In Rockport, amid controversy over who runs the fire department, the town’s selectmen indefinitely suspend the position of director of emergency services and hire an outside consultant to review the fire department. (Gloucester Daily Times)
A 36-year-old Natick woman who wants to become a policewoman is fighting for a home rule petition that would let Natick waive its age limit, which says someone cannot become a police officer or firefighter if they take the entrance exam after age 32. Several communities have similar laws. (MetroWest Daily News)
Maynard treasurer-collector Cheryl Kane is apparently murdered by her son, who then died by suicide at her Wayland home. (MassLive)
Swampscott Town Meeting votes to exempt the police and fire departments from civil service. (Daily Item)
Cape Cod Healthcare plans to tear down the former Lobster Claw restaurant in Orleans and replace it with a medical building and urgent care center. (Cape Cod Times)
A controversy has sprung up in Plymouth about email monitoring of a select board member by the town administrator. (Patriot Ledger)
Pfizer said complete results from its late-stage trial show the company’s coronavirus vaccine is 95 percent and without serious side effects. (Boston Globe)
Experts say rapid, self-administered tests could be key to controlling the pandemic by quickly identifying new cases. (MassLive) The FDA just approved use of the first rapid, at-home test. (Associated Press)
A new study measures the ways in which Massachusetts residents have let down their guard in terms of practicing social distancing over time. (GBH)
Baystate Health reports an outbreak of COVID-19 infecting 16 staff and four patients at the Springfield hospital. (MassLive)
The New York Times Magazine profiles Baystate Health’s desperate search for N95 masks.
Days after his administration’s top cybersecurity official declared that the presidential election was “the most secure in American history,” President Trump fired him. (New York Times)
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, 87, tests positive for the coronavirus. (NPR)
Republican governors who railed against the idea of mask mandates are now issuing them. (Washington Post)
Officials running the DCU Center are worried about additional revenue loss, since if a field hospital is being reactivated there, it can no longer be rented out for other events – such as federal court trials. (Telegram & Gazette)
The Boston Celtics will now promote the logo of the marketing and design firm Vistaprint on their jerseys after the firm paid for the rights previously held by GE. (Boston Globe)
A coalition of childcare providers say the state isn’t doing enough to support them. (The Salem News)
A flurry of text messages flew among Boston School Committee members and the district superintendent after the committee chairman, Michael Loconto — who resigned the next day — was heard on a hot mic mocking Asian names during a marathon meeting on Zoom. (Boston Globe)
Fire destroyed one of two indoor theaters at the renowned Jacob’s Pillow dance complex in Becket. (Berkshire Eagle)
The MBTA got scammed on a useless hand sanitizer product, but the agency is getting back the money it spent in the wake of an investigation by Attorney General Maura Healey. (WBUR)
Cape Ann residents worry that the loss of weekend commuter rail service will hurt tourism and business. (Gloucester Daily Times)
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins moves to dismiss dozens more cases that were based on evidence provided by state drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan, who pleaded guilty in 2013 to falsifying drug tests. (WBUR)
Watertown’s first female police detective is suing the town and police department over what she alleges is a “toxic” and “sexually charged” work environment. (Boston Herald)MEDIA
The Boston Herald’s newsstand sales — a mainstay of the struggling paper’s sales — have been devastated by the pandemic. (Boston Business Journal)