The statement below was issued by Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy just before 11 a.m. today regarding the reopening of schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. During his news conference at noon, Governor Charlie Baker announced his decision to close schools for the rest of the school year.
Our public school buildings must remain closed for the rest of the year.
Out of concern for our students, families, educators and communities, MTA members are demanding that Governor Charlie Baker immediately announce that our school buildings will remain closed and that remote learning will continue in Massachusetts for the remainder of this school year. That step is essential for the health and well-being of our students and all public education staff.
Educators and other school staff miss their students and their colleagues. They miss the structure of the school day. But keeping our students, staff and communities safe must be our highest priority right now. It is time for the state to end the uncertainty and confusion surrounding this issue and exercise decisive leadership.
Massachusetts has among the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the nation. We are in the middle of a surge of cases. Our entire state is an area of great concern to epidemiologists and policymakers at the state and federal levels. Against this backdrop, the governor’s suggestion last week that he may reopen schools before the end of the year, in part to administer “competency tests,” has set off a firestorm of concern among educators and parents — who believe that the priority must continue to be meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of students through remote learning.
There is no question that education is far more effective in person than through remote learning in both our preK-12 schools and in public higher education. We all eagerly look forward to the day when our students can return to their classrooms, including the children of our members, who are also at home during this difficult period. But these are extraordinary times, and they call for extraordinary leadership.
Our members are providing that leadership. And they are clear: Keep the school doors closed until the public health and the safety of our students and staff can be assured.
In addition, local school districts and higher education campuses must not lay off educators during this crisis. Remote learning is a tremendous, time-consuming challenge. All staff are needed to make sure it is successful and that students are reached, often one by one, to prevent learning gaps from growing wider. Layoffs would also have a negative impact on our communities and our economy. Moreover, it is clear that we will need all staff to be in place and ready to return to our schools and campuses when it is safe to do so.