Mass. Teachers Unions Rally for Safe School Reopening

Teachers unions are calling for adequate HVAC systems and rapid coronavirus testing for schools

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Teachers demanding action from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to safely reopen schools rallied at the state house and across the Commonwealth Wednesday.

Organized by their unions, they called on Baker to “take action in support of safe and healthy public schools and colleges," in a push for adequate HVAC systems and rapid coronavirus testing for K-12 schools.

“We don’t feel that our buildings are ready to accept our children ... at this moment,” Boston teacher Ana Arroyo said.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association held a socially distant stand-out with the American Federation of Teachers and Boston Teachers Union outside the State House on Wednesday afternoon. A caravan of cars also circled Boston Common as part of the rally.

"It's a nightmare, I never thought I'd live through anything like this," said teacher Nancy Mades-Byrd. "I miss my classroom, I miss my students, this is not about not wanting to teach. I'm a teacher, that's what I do. It's about wanting everybody to be safe: my kids, me, my family, my students' families."

Gov. Charlie Baker said that he thinks schools in communities with a low rate of coronavirus cases should be working toward at least some in-class instruction.

Other rallies took place Wednesday in school districts across the state as well.

Teachers said school needs to start with fully remote learning. Later, in-school instruction can be phased, in as it becomes safer. The unions are also calling on the state to establish consistent public health benchmarks for remote versus in-person learning.

“Even when we have a seat at the table, the expertise of the educators has been ignored,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

In Boston, school officials Wednesday revealed more details about the beginning of the school year.

Boston schools are readying to reopen in September, but some questions remain unanswered and parents still have concerns.

As it stands right now, families will choose either virtual instruction or hybrid. Hybrid will include two days of in-class learning for most students, but up to four days for students with high needs.

Teachers say that, before they head back, buildings need to be inspected and certified for safety and cleanliness, and there needs to be weekly coronavirus testing for students and staff that’s free and easily accessible.

“Handwashing is something that is enforced and really built into the schedule,” said Suzanne Salters Bennet, the nurse program director for the district.

The district says it’s been working all summer to clean buildings, improve ventilation, fix windows and stock up on critical supplies, and they said they’ve improved on the spring remote learning that was thrust on them at the last moment.

“This is going to be school,” said Christine Landry, BPS' academic superintendent. “It’s not emergency school, crisis remote learning, but a return to a different form of school but school nonetheless. So we’ll have a regular school day.”

Rallies were also scheduled at nearly 30 public colleges and universities in Massachusetts, demanding the state step in to protect the institutions from the financial and health impacts of the pandemic.

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