Teachers and staff in school districts planning remote instruction this fall are expected to return to school buildings and conduct distance learning from empty classrooms, according to guidelines released Friday by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The issue of in-person learning has been a contentious one as Massachusetts school districts plan a return to school amid the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s largest teachers unions have pushed for all remote learning, and Friday’s recommendation is sure to intensify the debate over health and safety standards.
Commissioner Jeffrey Riley wrote in guidelines published online that educators are expected to “report to their schools to work from the classrooms and educational spaces each day.”
Their presence in schools “will be beneficial to students, teachers, staff, and administrators,” Riley wrote.
The guidelines also recommend that teachers in districts providing remote learning be allowed to bring their children to school with them for child care, and that children of teachers get priority “for full-time, in-person instruction when feasible,” along with high-needs students.
State education officials also recommend that schools “continue to provide as much in-person instruction as possible to vulnerable students,” even in districts with a high average daily rate of coronavirus cases.
As districts have planned for the fall, the state’s three influential teachers unions have played a key role in elevating health concerns related to reopening, including pointing out that many schools have inadequate ventilation systems and advocating for the state to provide masks and testing.
They have harnessed the anger and fear of their nearly 140,000 members to fight against Governor Charlie Baker’s calls for students to go back to in-person schooling.
“No students or staff should be asked to rush back into unsafe conditions until all possible health and safety precautions have been addressed and districts are given the resources to do,” the Boston Teachers Union said in an e-mail to members on Friday.
Baker announced this week that nearly 70 percent of districts plan to bring students back to in-person classes in some capacity
The presence of teachers in classrooms will help students learning remotely to become familiar with the classroom environment and help ease the transition back to in-person teaching when it is safe to return to classrooms, according to the new guidelines.
Teachers working from classrooms rather than their homes will also have access to instructional materials they may not be able to access from home, and they will have reliable internet access and tech support, according to the department.
Being in schools also enables teachers to work together with colleagues and allows administrators to better observe and support educators, the department said.