The Boston Teachers Union is filing an injunction to halt in-person learning at Boston Public Schools on Friday due to coronavirus concerns. But Mayor Marty Walsh continues to argue that the schools should remain open for high-needs students.
Boston delayed plans to reopen schools in the city because the coronavirus positivity rate hit 4%, Walsh announced Wednesday. But the 1,300 highest-need students, who returned to class last week, are continuing with in-person learning if their parents so choose.
"Our schools are safe," Walsh said at a media availability Friday. He said he met with the teachers union on Thursday and plans to continue those talks on Friday.
"The right thing right now is having school for the highest-need students. If the numbers get to a point where it's dangerous, then we will do the right thing and postpone school down the road," he added.
The union, which held an emergency town hall Wednesday night, said in a statement it was headed to court for the injunction, claiming the city isn't standing by an agreement to move to full remote learning now that the coronavirus infection rate is above 4%.
“We’re arguing that the Boston Public Schools violates the expressed rules of the safety agreement, which says that schools will transition to full remote teaching in the event the positivity rate goes above 4%,” Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang said.
While the union argues that it’s unsafe for teachers to return to classrooms, some parents say in-person learning is essential for students with special needs.
“This is simply not a choice for our students," mother Kelsey Brendel said. "It’s an absolute necessity and we thank them for signing up to do the job that we can’t do.”
The union said the agreement reached between it and the school system allows for teachers to work remotely if they want in the case the COVID positivity rate in Boston tops 4%.
The group said it would stand by any teachers who don't feel it's safe to return to work and face repercussions, and 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.
Preschoolers and kindergartners who were supposed to report to school the week of Oct. 15 are now scheduled to start Oct. 22 instead. Grades 4 through 8 are slated to transition to a hybrid model the week of Nov. 5, and grades 9 through 12 the week of Nov. 16.
Walsh said Friday that he is concerned with the recent rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations in Boston, but it's too soon to say if the city might have to remain in remote learning for an extended period.
"The trend doesn't feel good today," he said. "With the virus, it's really unpredictable. It changes from day to day."
"I'd like to say we're beyond the toughest fight of the coronavirus," Walsh added. "But in 1917, the Spanish flu was here, and at the end of 1917 people felt pretty good about where we were as a country, and it came back. We're dealing with a virus that's unpredictable... I don't know what the next three weeks, two months will bring."