MTA President Merrie Najimy issued the following statement today in response to Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s threatening notice to school districts that are using remote learning models:
The MTA supports communities and school districts that have chosen to begin the year with remote learning to maintain public health and safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having failed to provide adequate guidance or state support to make it possible for our public schools to open safely, State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley and Governor Charlie Baker have the gall to threaten 16 communities that have wisely chosen not to pursue in-person learning at this time even though Riley and Baker identified them as warranting greater in-person learning because of their low infection rates.
These communities may have lower rates of COVID-19 than others, but each has used a democratic process – in accordance with state guidelines – to determine what is best for their students, educators and residents.
It is naive at best and reckless at worst to assume that the coronavirus somehow does not travel across municipal borders. The infection rate of any one community is irrelevant, as a school typically employs educators and staff from multiple cities and towns, and in some instances from out of state.
It is far more relevant to note that Massachusetts as a state still steadily discovers many new infections daily – and tragically continues to post significant numbers of those dying from COVID-19.
“Riley and Baker need to respect the decisions made at the local level and support districts that are successfully navigating this pandemic.”MTA President Merrie Najimy
The Baker administration’s strategy of seeking to bully communities into adopting more in-person learning or facing “audits” by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is one more example of the failed leadership the state has shown in handling public education during the pandemic.
Riley, the DESE and the state government as a whole should be doing everything possible to support communities with sensible strategies as they assess the physical needs of a safe return to school buildings while using remote approaches to ensure that learning continues. Rather, the state has bogged down the process with administrative minutiae that do not serve our students.
The academic year is off to a chaotic start, with several schools – including some in communities with low infection rates – forced to close because of COVID-19 cases. Riley and Baker are largely responsible for the chaotic start because of their failure to provide adequate guidance or necessary supports.
The MTA is not surprised to see Riley use these kinds of pressure tactics to push Baker’s agenda. When residents of New Bedford successfully stopped a privately run charter school from taking control of a public building and automatically enrolling students from surrounding neighborhoods, Riley followed through with his threat to allow the charter school an even greater expansion.
Communities with low rates of COVID-19 have drafted school reopening plans precisely to keep those rates low. Riley and Baker need to respect the decisions made at the local level and support districts that are successfully navigating this pandemic.