The largest teachers’ union in Massachusetts held a rally in Springfield Monday as the organization campaigns for remote-only learning to start the new school year.
Chanting “Not until it’s safe,” dozens of teachers and their supporters demonstrated Monday morning in front of Springfield City Hall.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association contends it is too risky to have students and staff return to school buildings – especially older buildings with inefficient ventilation systems that could spread the coronavirus.
Max Page, the association’s vice president and a professor at UMass Amherst, said each of the union’s more than 350 local affiliates are being asked to vote this week on a resolution supporting remote-only learning.
"We feel it is not safe yet ( to return to school buildings) because the protocols are not there, the funding is not there," said Page.
Schools in Massachusetts shut down in March because of the pandemic. School districts are now finalizing re-opening plans that are due at the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by August 10th.
Governor Charlie Baker has said as many children as possible should be brought back to classrooms this fall.
In Springfield, school officials are leaning toward a mix of in-person and remote learning. Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick said given safe spacing requirements a full return of the district’s 20,000 students to classrooms is just not possible.
"In a hybrid model we feel we can offer better education because we will have the students in front of us part of the time," said Warwick.
Warwick said the school district has spent $3 million to purchase personal protective equipment for students and staff and has hired an industrial hygienist to recommend steps that have to be taken to make each school building safe.
"For any parent who is nervous, it is going to be there choice," said Warwick. "Ever parent has the right to choose ' remote only' if they are nervous about sending their child in."
The Springfield School Committee is holding a virtual town hall Tuesday at 6 p.m. to get community input ahead of an expected vote by the committee this week on a final back-to-school plan.
The debate over reopening schools in Massachusetts comes as the state is seeing an upward creep in COVID-19 cases. The number of new daily cases has been increasing for a couple of weeks, so has the number of hospitalizations. The positive test rate has gone above 2 percent as the number of tests being done has held steady.
The increases in these key metrics are small but concerning, said Dr. Robert Roose, Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield.
" The reality is if we look at the data we are no longer moving in the right direction," said Roose. "We have taken a slight uptick in the wrong way."
Gov. Baker last week said several clusters of cases linked to large gatherings of people are under investigation by state health officials.