MTA President Merrie Najimy issued the following statement today after the release of DESE’s reopening guidance:
The school closures this year have turned public education upside down for students, educators and families alike. Educators and students want nothing more than to be back in the schools, teaching and learning together. But it has to be done right. The guidance released today by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education raises as many questions as it answers.
The MTA issued a platform on June 17 that makes clear that a safe and equitable return to school is possible when we do the following: fully fund schools; restore and increase staffing; ensure needed health and safety measures; reimagine curriculum, instruction and assessment, including adopting an end to MCAS testing; and guarantee that students and staff have the needed materials, supplies and technology.
In light of those recommendations, the following are some preliminary responses to DESE’s guidance:
1. Our public schools cannot meet students’ academic, social, emotional and health needs without the full funding of the Student Opportunity Act.
First, our public schools cannot meet students’ academic, social, emotional and health needs without full funding of the Student Opportunity Act — and more — from the state. Nor can this happen without restoring all of the positions that were cut through layoffs and nonrenewals this spring while adding more staff to meet the heightened needs of students, many of whom are suffering from trauma that has been deepened by the pandemic.
Significant funding will be required for personal protective equipment, adequate staffing to enable physical distancing, and additional supports to address students’ social, emotional and academic needs. This is important across the state — and it is particularly crucial for low-income students and students of color who live with the consequences of the structural racism of underfunded schools and communities. As a start, reductions in force that school districts implemented to address budget concerns must be reversed immediately.
2. A significant number of students are likely to continue to learn remotely even if others are back in school.
Second, the reality is that a significant number of students are likely to continue to learn remotely even if others are back in school. While in-person teaching is ideal, it remains inevitable that nowhere close to 100 percent of students and educators will be able to be back in our schools this fall — especially considering that COVID-19 is still in its first wave and could spike again in Massachusetts at any moment.
Parents and educators share health and safety concerns. Our educators and families of color have a heightened concern because they are already at a higher risk of contracting the virus due to preexisting conditions. As a result, they also have worse outcomes. We are reminded of this through a Suffolk University poll released this week showing that 60 percent of Black and Latino parents and 44 percent of white parents do not believe that school buildings can reopen “in a way that keeps most kids and adults safe from the coronavirus.” Although the science is mixed on safety standards, the DESE guidance asks students, parents and staff to take a leap of faith and accept relaxing standards on physical distancing and other safety protocols. Many of our educators have expressed the view that this feels like a science experiment.
In addition, a significant number of educators have coronavirus risk factors, or live with someone who has such risk factors, which will make it necessary for them to continue working remotely. A smaller number of students also have medical conditions that put them at a heightened risk. These facts alone mean that some remote teaching and learning will need to continue and must be funded.
3. We will need time to transition back into school and tend to building relationships with and among educators, students and their families.
Third, a glaring omission in this guidance is any reference to the time we will need at the start of the year to transition back into school and tend to building relationships with and among educators, students and their families. Districts must commit to transforming teaching and learning to be rooted in trauma-informed and antiracist theory and practice. To do this successfully, educators will need high-quality professional development in these fields and time to collaborate with one another and with families. This can’t happen without ending MCAS.
To reopen this fall, districts must prepare for models that will address the health and education needs of our students and educators. Negotiating such models between school districts and local educator unions will require that the expertise of educators, students and families be centered in the decision-making. Most importantly, it cannot happen without adequate funding from the state.