Gov. Charlie Baker and education officials are giving an update after he defended a letter that the state’s top education official sent to 16 school districts, pushing them to come up with plans for in-person learning.
Jeffrey Riley, commissioner of the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, sent the letter last week to districts in communities with a low rate of COVID-19 spread that have started the school year without any in-person classes.
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Last month, Baker’s administration set an “expectation” that communities with low levels of spread, as tracked on the state’s weekly map, would bring students in to classes at least part time.
“Local officials run their local schools, we understand that, but the state has an obligation to ensure that local officials are providing the best possible education in these difficult circumstances,” Baker said during a wide-ranging news conference in Lowell.
Districts that received Riley’s letter are Amesbury, Bourne, Boxford, East Longmeadow, Gardner, Pittsfield, Provincetown, West Springfield, Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public, Hoosac Valley, Gill-Montague, Mohawk Trail, Mohawk Trail/Hawlemont, Manchester Essex, Belmont and Watertown.
“In light of the stark discrepancy between local public health data and your reopening plan, I am requesting a timeline by which you anticipate providing in-person instruction for the majority of your students,” Riley wrote in his letter, which gave districts 10 days to respond.
In a statement, Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said she believes Baker’s administration is bullying communities into adopting more in-person learning with threats of “audits” from the DESE.
“Having failed to provide adequate guidance or state support to make it possible for our public schools to open safely, State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley and Governor Charlie Baker have the gall to threaten 16 communities that have wisely chosen not to pursue in-person learning at this time,” Merrie Najimy said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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