Even as a growing number of Massachusetts school districts decide to offer remote-only instruction this fall, Governor Charlie Baker said Friday an overarching remote approach is not the right direction for the entire state.
“What we have tried to say from the beginning on this stuff is, ‘We will provide guidance and financial resources,’ which we have done to our colleagues in local government, and that we really wanted them to make what they thought was the best decision on behalf of their community,” Baker said during a press conference at the State House. “And what I’m saying is if you look at the data across most communities in Massachusetts, there’s plenty of opportunity there based on the science and what we know for them to consider reopening in some way in person.”
“To say everybody should go remote,” he added, “I mean first of all, the facts don’t support it, the data doesn’t support it, and the science doesn’t support it.”
Baker’s comments came at the end of a busy week for school committees across the state, many of whom met virtually to discuss and vote on final reopening plans for the fall. Several districts, including Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Malden, and Lynn, voted to begin the school year remotely for most students, with some exceptions for younger children or those with higher needs.
Many districts have also laid out plans for transitioning into hybrid models after the first few weeks.
Each district has been asked to submit its final reopening plans to the state by Aug. 14, including details for three potential scenarios: entirely remote, entirely in-person, and a hybrid approach. Baker has acknowledged that schools may need to “pivot” mid-year, depending on the coronavirus data in each community.
Baker on Friday spoke specifically to the issues that younger children will face by learning remotely during the coming academic year. Many children in third grade or below rely on in-person assistance to learn how to read, he said.
“Trying to teach those kids how to read remotely, I mean that’s not how you teach kids how to read,” Baker said. “You teach kids how to read phonetically with repetition and individualized attention.”
He also spoke about the differences between the abrupt shift to remote learning in the spring — after teachers and students had already gotten to know one another well — and the decision to have students start a new year remotely, having never met their teachers in person.
“For anybody who opens remote straight out of the gate, you’re talking about a bunch of kids and a bunch of teachers who won’t know each other at all,” he said.
Starting the year remotely has been a sticking point for many of Massachusetts’ largest teachers’ unions in recent weeks. Both the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts have called for schools to start remotely, citing concerns about the ventilation systems and space needed in classrooms to keep people safe.
US Representative Ayanna Pressley separately spoke out Friday, issuing a statement in support of both unions, and calling for Massachusetts school districts to all begin the year remotely.
“Over the past several weeks, I’ve heard directly from students, parents, educators, and superintendents who have overwhelmingly expressed their concerns about sending students and educators back to the classroom before it is safe to do so,” Pressley said in her statement.
“Schools throughout the Commonwealth — particularly in communities hardest hit by COVID-19 like so many across the Massachusetts Seventh — are not equipped with the resources, equipment, classroom facilities and staff necessary to safely reopen for in-person courses,” she continued. “The safety and health of our children, educators, and community must come first.”