Mayor, BPS Hit Pause School Reopening Plan

With the city’s positive test rate exceeding the 4 percent threshold last week, Mayor Martin Walsh and Boston Public School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said the city would hit the pause button on the phased-in hybrid reopening plan that was to begin Thursday. 

However, with 1,300 ‘high-needs’ students attending schools each day since last Thursday the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) is seeking an injunction so teachers won’t be forced to teach in-person until the positive test rate in Boston goes below 4 percent. 

Throughout this pandemic Mayor Walsh said the city has made decisions based on science to protect Bostonians’ health and safety, with special consideration for our most vulnerable residents. 

“The latest citywide positive rate puts us just over the 4% threshold that we set for moving forward with our phased-in, hybrid learning plan in the Boston Public Schools,” said Walsh. “Consistent with our overall cautious approach to reopening, 4% is a conservative threshold by state, national, and global public health standards, which generally focus on staying below 5% positivity.”

Because Boston has passed 4 percent the Mayor said the city would pause the school reopening plan, and push back the earliest possible start date for Phase 3 from October 15 to October 22. That means, as of now, the K0, K1, and K2 kindergarten grades may enter schools no sooner than October 22. 

“We will re-evaluate this date and subsequent phases based on the data we see moving forward,” said Walsh. 

While the decision to push back the earliest hybrid start date for those grades, Walsh said schools would continue to serve the highest-needs students in the district whose families opted to begin hybrid learning last week. 

“This decision is based on the guidance of our public health experts and in consultation with state officials in public health and education, and it is consistent with our decision to prioritize our highest needs students in this plan,” said Walsh. 

This decision to continue in-person learning for high-needs students and subsequent letter from Cassellius to school staff triggered the BTU to file for an injunction last week. 

In her letter Cassellius wrote that teachers were, “expected to report to their school buildings” and failure to report for work could result in discipline.

“BTU is seeking injunctive relief because the union supports safe, high quality instruction for high-needs students,” said BTU President Jessica Tang. “We value in-person learning, and believe that the botched pandemic response of the federal government has put communities across the nation in an extremely difficult position. We believe that the school district must take steps immediately to assure safety with appropriate staffing ratios to protect not just high-needs students, but also their families, educators, and the community at large.”

Tang said BTU will continue to comply with the language in the safety agreement that allows for an option to teach remotely today, tomorrow and beyond, and will support any educators that may face undue repercussions as a result of exercising their right to work safely and remotely now that the city-wide rate is above 4%, and is much higher in many Boston neighborhoods.

“The union recognizes and supports the importance of in-person instruction for many of its high needs students,” said Tang. “Our educators 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 the educators, who are also parents, and often parents of high needs students, as well, in doing what is best and safest for their families.”

In order to achieve the goal of providing the best possible instruction for all students, Tang said BPS must work with the BTU to create a scheduling plan that ensures appropriate staffing for high quality instruction in buildings that are safe, without sending in thousands of non-essential staff whose presence unnecessarily increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission among students, educators, and the public at-large.

“In-person students should have teachers who can focus on their in-person services, while others are focused on remote students,” said Tang. “The BTU will keep fighting for what is best for students, families and educators both for their academic needs and also for their health and safety.”

However, Walsh pushed back, saying, “These are trying times for everyone; there are no easy choices. But we have to follow the public health guidance and we have to listen to those who are impacted. This decision came down to me realizing that, for our highest needs students, we — the district — are their choice. We are their chance to move forward. We cannot take this chance away from them so soon after they started — not when there’s an opportunity, backed by public health, to have them in schools. There’s too much at stake for these young people. Every day matters for them and they deserve our very best effort.”

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