As teachers’ COVID-19 numbers rise, unions support personal learning but push for stronger mitigation measures – Community News
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As teachers’ COVID-19 numbers rise, unions support personal learning but push for stronger mitigation measures

But teachers’ union leaders told the Globe Friday that the spread of the coronavirus should not lead to a widespread return to distance-only learning. Last year, hundreds of thousands of students across the state were in distance learning models for much of the year.

“Our main goal is to enable everyone in the buildings to learn together in safe conditions,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “But as we’re not there yet, there needs to be flexibility where there is a great need for distance learning.”

Najimy criticized Governor Charlie Baker and Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley for banning schools this year from counting remote teaching hours as part of their mandatory school days. While distance learning should not be introduced unilaterally, schools with an outbreak that spreads to an entire class or school should provide that opportunity for families.

Riley recently rejected Boston Public Schools’ request to count seven days of distance education — instead, he approved just four remote days — amid a COVID outbreak that has hit dozens of students and some Curley K-8 School staff. Jamaica Plain. The district kept the school closed for seven school days anyway, citing the recommendation of local health officials.

The Department of Primary and Secondary Education “continues with [have] a reckless approach that is inflexible, just saying we need to get back to normal. It’s the wrong approach,” Najimy said. “What we need instead is a much more cautious and flexible approach.”

Both Najimy and Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, said state education leaders must strengthen restrictive measures that could prevent proliferation in classrooms altogether.

For example, they both said districts should prioritize repairing old ventilation systems. And, they said, the state’s universal masking mandate, which currently expires in January, must remain in effect. Najimy also said Riley should not allow certain schools to drop their mask mandates if 80 percent of students and staff are vaccinated, as he currently does.

“It’s the wrong measure,” she said. “It should become a national standard.”

Kontos, who estimates at least 90 percent of its members are fully vaccinated, said she is concerned about the rising number of coronavirus cases among staff members, but is particularly concerned about young children who remain unvaccinated.

“I feel like our members are okay, but when there’s so much virus going around the schools, are all these kids who haven’t been vaccinated okay?” she said.

Erik Berg, executive vice president of the Boston Teachers Union, called on Friday for more COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and transparency from state leaders to “make our schools as safe as possible.”

“We really believe they need to improve their game,” he said.

Families at Curley and another Jamaica Plain school recently hit by a coronavirus outbreak told the Globe last week they received news of which students had been infected or may have been exposed through other parents, rather than through the district .

Berg emphasized: The union is not calling for “a widespread return to distance learning.”

But the state can do more to make sure educators and students alike feel safe at school, he said.

“Educators want and need to be there for their students and work hard,” he says. “They just want to make sure that every layer of security measures that can be taken is in place.”


Felicia Gans can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.


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