Boston teachers challenge in-person teaching agreement

  • School staff help to decorate the front entrance of the Ellis Elementary School in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood before opening for the first day back of in person learning during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Boston is delaying plans to reopen the city's schools after the city's coronavirus positivity rate climbed higher than 4%, Mayor Marty Walsh announced Wednesday, Oct. 7. Some students, including those with special needs, those dealing with homelessness, and those who are in state care have already been allowed to return to in-person classes. They will continue to be taught in person, the mayor said. (David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via AP) David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Published: 10/8/2020 7:43:28 PM

BOSTON — Boston public school teachers announced a legal challenge Thursday to the city’s decision to continue some in-person classes, which they argue is in violation of an agreement that requires all-remote learning if the city’s coronavirus positivity rate rises past 4%.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced Wednesday that the next phase of the schools’ reopening plan would be delayed by a week because the city positivity rate had climbed to 4.1%. Preschoolers and kindergartners who were scheduled to report to school the week of Oct. 15 instead will now start Oct. 22, Walsh said.

But he added that students who had already returned to the classroom, including those with special needs, English learners, those experiencing homelessness, and those who are in state care, would continue with in-person instruction.

The Boston Teachers Union said based on a memorandum of understanding between the union and the city, in-person work is now optional for all teachers because of the high infection rate.

The union also said it objected to a suggestion by Superintendent Brenda Cassellius that teachers could be disciplined for opting not to teach in person.

“(Boston Teachers Union will) support any educators that may face undue repercussions as a result of exercising their right to work safely and remotely now that they citywide rate is above 4%, and is much higher in many Boston neighborhoods,” the union told its members.

Walsh’s press office in a statement said the mayor believes in-person teaching is allowed under terms of the memorandum.

“The Mayor wholeheartedly believes that special consideration must be given to our highest needs students who rely on the in-person instruction and support offered by their teachers in a classroom setting, and that we cannot take this away from them when there’s an opportunity, backed by public health, to have them in schools,” the statement said.

The teachers union cites a clause in the memorandum that reads: “If the citywide COVID-19 positivity rate rises above 4% citywide, BPS will transition to full remote learning for all students, and BTU bargaining unit members will have the option to be remote as well.”

But the mayor’s office pointed to the subsequent sentence that reads: “When the Boston Public Health Commission or other City or State authority determines that the school district can reopen, BTU bargaining unit members will be expected to return to BPS buildings.”

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