Mass. Education Chief Has Authority to Force Schools to Reopen. Here's Why Educators Are Concerned

The vote came on Friday and was 8-3 in favor of the motion

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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has voted to give one person — the education commissioner — the power to reopen schools, and some teachers are worried that may give the state too much power.

The controversial vote came Friday, and gives Jeffrey Riley full power to require in-person learning for elementary school students. Students who are not comfortable returning to school will have the option of remaining remote for the rest of the school year.



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The state's education commissioner granted emergency authority to reopen schools for in-person classes starting April 5.

“Let’s not mince words about the proposal," said Rami Bridge of the Somerville Educators Union. "If you accept this, you are giving the commissioner broad powers to override any school districts planned learning model.”

The vote was 8-3 in favor of the motion after a meeting that lasted over two hours.

Medical professionals have said that remote learning presents its own challenges, and point to a rise in childhood depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, suicidal thoughts, domestic violence and substance abuse in both parents and children.

Though doctors say childhood mental health problems have long been under-addressed in children, remote learning has helped shine a light on the problem.

"I really believe, and I realize this is unpopular to say, but that we have failed a generation of students in the commonwealth and in our country," state school board member Paymon Rouhanifard said Friday.

Teachers and teachers unions say it’s too soon to return to classrooms full-time while the pandemic is still a threat.

“Please vote against this proposal," Bridge said. "Allow our elected and appointed leaders to continue doing their jobs. More state control is not the solution.”

Arlington is one of a dozen school districts whose superintendent signed onto a letter urging the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to work with school districts to come up with a more concrete plan for a return to school, including scheduling vaccinations for school staff.

Education officials are expected to vote today on whether to grant the state's education commissioner the authority to require elementary students return to full-time in-person learning.

The superintendents said they lack guidance from the state on the 3 feet versus 6 feet rules for unmasked activities like lunch, special education, and possible conflicts with union bargaining agreements.

There is no timeline for middle or high school students just yet. Education officials say educators are eligible to receive the vaccine next week.

Gov. Charlie Baker applauded the vote, saying data has demonstrated that learning in class can be safe.

"We are grateful for the Board's support and look forward to getting all students back to in person learning soon," Baker said in a statement.

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