‘Going to cause chaos’: President of Mass. Teachers Association knocks plan to bring students back to class

BOSTON (WHDH) - Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy on Tuesday knocked the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education’s plan to bring some students back into classrooms by April, saying that he “can’t just wave a magic wand” and make the dangers of COVID-19 disappear.

Jeffrey C. Riley’s proposal to bring elementary school students back to class for five days a week come April is an attempted coverup for Gov. Charlie Baker’s failure to get teachers vaccinated sooner, according to Najimy.

“This is going to cause chaos and we’re going to have to see where this chaos leads to,” Najimy stated.

Najimy also said that Riley’s announcement undercuts all the work teachers have been doing with local school boards to make it safe for students and teachers to get back to school.

“The commissioner can’t just wave a magic wand and make all the danger and problems go away,” Najimy added. “There are still too many schools, particularly in communities of color, where the ventilation systems cannot control infection. You simply can’t follow the science of six feet distancing and have 100 percent of the people back in school.”

While presenting his plan during a Board of Education Meeting, Riley said that he would like to completely eliminate remote and hybrid learning models, in part because more than 900 schools are taking part in COVID-19 pool testing.

The pool testing launched on Monday, but Najimy said the rollout has been less than stellar.

“The pool testing program is limping along,” Najimy explained. “We have a new variant and we don’t understand its impact yet.”

Other educators, including Rachel Barstow from the Beverly School for the Deaf, say they support Riley’s plan.

“This can be done be safely. I understand the fear but for our children, we need to be there,” Barstow said.

Barstow’s private, non-profit school has had children attending class for five days a week since October without any COVID-19 spread.

Barstow feels that many students are suffering and falling behind with remote learning.

“These children want to be back in school,” Barstow said. “They want to be back in school so much that they wear their masks. They are safe.”

Najimy noted that it’s too early to say whether teachers are going to fight the plan to resume in-person learning or if they will refuse to go back to work.

Teachers will become eligible to get vaccinated when Group 3 of Phase 2 of the state’s rollout plan get the green light from Baker, but it’s not clear when that will be.

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