Dozens of Boston teachers and parents held a rally at Dorchester Park Saturday afternoon to call for safer centers of learning amid the rising coronavirus cases in the city.
"We would like a safe place for our highest need students to be with appropriate ventilation," said Liz Everson, a special education teacher.
One suggestion among the group of ralliers Saturday is to only use the buildings with the most up-to-date HVAC systems.
"If we have buildings that have appropriate ventilation and have passed all of the tests, then there's no reason why we can't be sending our students to those buildings," Everson said.
On Friday, Mayor Marty Walsh stressed that the city was making progress in talks with the teacher's union, and outlined the measures being taken for ongoing in-person education.
"Our schools are safe," Walsh said. "We have all the proper protocol in place."
The City of Boston has already delayed plans to reopen the city's schools because the coronavirus positivity rate hit 4%, but in-person teaching continues for an estimated 1,300 of the highest-need students.
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The Boston Teachers Union announced Thursday that it filed a court order to stop all in-person learning, saying Boston Public Schools and the city are violating the safety agreement to move to full remote learning if the citywide coronavirus infection reached the 4% threshold.
The union is demanding that city school buildings close to prevent further spread of COVID-19, and that the buildings designated to be the safest provide in-person learning for students with higher needs. The union is also asking schools to provide designated in-person staff for those students, while all other students and teachers engage in remote learning.
"All of our educators are working," Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang said. "This is not a decision of we are either working or not working."
"The question is if it is safe to do so in person, and if we are even actually providing high quality in-person instruction, which, by the way, we don't think we are because they are asked to teach both simultaneously in person and virtually," said Tang.
Preschoolers and kindergartners who were scheduled to report to school the week of Oct. 15 instead will start Oct. 22, Walsh said. Grades 4 through 8 are now scheduled to transition to a hybrid model the week of Nov. 5, and grades 9 through 12 the week of Nov. 16, according to Walsh.
The union said it would stand by any teachers who don't feel it's safe to return to work and face repercussions, and it urged members to reach out to Walsh, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius and the school committee chair to voice their concerns.
"We continue to recognize the importance of in-person instruction for many of our high needs students. We are aligned with the parents who want a plan from BPS for the safest, highest quality, in-person services possible for high needs students. And we strongly support our educators, who are also parents and often parents of high needs students, as well, to do what is best and safest for their families," read a statement from the union.
But according to the city, while the agreement says that teachers in the union have the option of working remotely when the COVID positivity rate tops 4%, they will be expected to return to buildings when city or state authorities say it's safe to reopen.
"The Mayor wholeheartedly believes that special consideration must be given to our highest needs students who rely on the in-person instruction and support offered by their teachers in a classroom setting, and that we cannot take this away from them when there’s an opportunity, backed by public health, to have them in schools," a spokesperson for the city said in a statement, which didn't give the spokesperson's name.