Boston Teachers Union planning to sue for all-remote learning as city coronavirus rate rises

The Boston Teachers Union plans to sue in an effort to force Boston Public Schools to go all remote now that the city’s coronavirus infection rate is up.

The union said in a post Thursday morning, “We are seeking injunctive relief regarding the BPS and city’s decision not to comply with the MOA language which requires BPS to transition to full remote learning as a result of the 4.1% COVID-19 positivity rate.”

That’s referring to the seven-day average positivity rate that Mayor Martin Walsh announced Wednesday. The city has long said that 4% is the threshold at which the city will reconsider its path to send BPS students back to some in-person learning.

Walsh on Wednesday said the city would “pause” the next phase in the process, pushing back by at least a week young children going back to school.

Walsh has repeatedly said it’s important to get children back in classrooms to as great an extent as is safe.

“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,” a Walsh spokeswoman said Thursday in a statement.

Asked directly about the BTU move during a WCVB livestream, Walsh said he’s following the “guidance of public-health experts,” and, “We’ll see what happens, but today they had another great day in school.”

Currently, “high-needs” students — including those in special-education programs and who are homeless — are in school.

BTU President Jessica Tang in a Wednesday statement ripped the mayor for not taking more steps that the union suggested during the negotiations over this year’s pandemic-era back-to-school deliberations. Those discussions that resulted in a September memorandum of understanding, or the MOA, as the BTU referred to it.

Tang also cited “multiple” COVID-positive tests, telling the Herald that the BTU knows of around five cases over the previous few days in schools.

The BTU cited the MOA as saying,  “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.”

Walsh’s office notes that the next sentence is, “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.”

Walsh’s office provided a letter from the Boston Public Health Commission dated Wednesday that said that the BPHC “has determined that schools can reopen and continue to offer in-person learning to the high priority students with their teachers and other staff on site.”

The letter calls the 4% benchmark “a conservative approach.”

The BTU said on Thursday that the organization is planning a press conference later in the day to announce more information, but the Thursday statement slammed this interpretation as “disingenuous.”

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