Nayely Martinez graduated from Fenway High School in the spring and still has two siblings in the Boston Public School system. To her, it is still unsafe for students to go back to school in the fall.
While Martinez said she didn't get to experience milestone events like graduating in-person and had to spend the final months of high school looking at a screen, she still wouldn't have wanted to go back.
"It doesn't matter how many kids are in there, no classroom is big enough to hold 20 kids six feet apart," she said. "It sucks. It really does. But this is what we need to do. We need to stay online."
Martinez joined three of the state's largest teachers' unions -- AFT Massachusetts, Boston Teachers Union, and Massachusetts Teachers Association --- for a rally outside of the State House Wednesday to demand that the school year start remotely, with in-person teaching phased in later when certain health and safety standards are met. The event comes as roughly two-thirds of the state's school districts are planning for at least some in-person teaching in the fall.
Out of the 371 districts that submitted reopening plans to state education officials, 70 percent are expected to either fully return to in-person classes or use a hybrid model of remote and in-person. Most are opting for a hybrid model. In announcing the figures Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker said 30 percent of school districts are eyeing fully remote instruction.
State officials have said that municipalities with public health data that indicates a lesser risk of spreading COVID-19 should reopen school buildings for at least some in-person teaching, under new health and safety standards like required masks and social distancing. Baker has pointed out potential challenges students might encounter when trying to get to know peers and teachers while learning over digital platforms.
Baker said at a Tuesday press conference that, since schools first closed their buildings in March, "we've learned a tremendous amount about COVID and have put together guidelines to allow for a productive and safe learning environment that adapts to the challenges that come with COVID-19."
Whitney Nielsen, a high school teacher in Hudson, said Wednesday she would like to see all students in her district start remotely and then move into a hybrid or in-person model. After abruptly transitioning to remote learning in the spring, she said one of the biggest challenges was figuring out a way to keep a sense of community among students.
Her district plans to start with a hybrid model with some students at home and others in the classrooms. Nielsen said she is going to rely on technology to keep the students connected.
"And try to have some like low-stakes, low-stress assignments in the beginning, where the students who are at home and the students who are in the classroom are having to do some sort of small tiny group assignments together using the technology," she said. "Hopefully, they can start having those conversations and getting to know each other."
The line of ralliers, linked together by caution tape and paper chains, stretched from Joy Street past the State House steps and around the corner to Bowdoin Street. Patti Ryan (left) teaches wood engineering and boat building at Marshfield High School. [Sam Doran/SHNS]
The Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that children in child care and students in pre-school, kindergarten through twelfth grade, and college are required to receive the flu vaccine. Public health officials said the measure "is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and the overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic."
Several major Boston-area universities including Boston University, Brandeis University, and Northeastern University were reported to be moving ahead with some form of in-person classes.
Mayor Marty Walsh and Boston superintendent Brenda Cassellius opted against going totally in-person for the upcoming school year but have yet to make a concrete decision on a hybrid or entirely remote model. The district expects to host the first day of classes on Sept. 21, according to the second draft of the BPS reopening plan.
State public health data from last week categorized Boston in the moderate-risk "yellow" category with 582 cases and a 6 percent average daily incidence rate per 100,000 people in the last two weeks. Appearing on CNN Wednesday, Walsh said his hope is to utilize a hybrid model for the fall.
"We're looking at the data and the positive testing here in the city. Ending last week, we had a 2.6 positive rate as far as testing, which is fairly low," he said. "And a decision will be made fairly soon. We're looking at how do we best prepare our kids for the future here in Boston."
Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang said there is frustration among educators in Boston with the lack of a decision on the particular model the district will use. The organization represents around 10,000 teachers, other non-administrative, professional employees, paraprofessionals, and substitute teachers.
"It's too close to the start of the school year for teachers and parents and students not to know what the plan is," she said at the Wednesday rally. "We need time to prepare for whatever it's going to be. And at this point, since we haven't seen enough of the resources that we need around the facilities, upgrades in safety and health, we do believe we need to start remote first, so then we can assess what the safety conditions are to bring back our highest-needs students first."
Tracey Spence, who teaches English language learners in Newton, said she doesn't want to return to schools unless there are safety protocols set up. Having served on the district's planning committee all summer, she said she spent long hours planning for a remote learning model.
The district presented a hybrid model where teachers split each day between focusing on students in the classroom and those at home. Local officials say the model addresses health and safety concerns, decreases daily contacts, and eliminates large on-site group lunches.
Spence said she is going to continue to advocate for a fully remote model.
"The remote learning, we're able to create a social-emotional learning environment for sure, which is what everyone's concern is. We have the Newton parents behind us," she said among rally-goers. "I'm hoping that we can turn the tide in the next couple of weeks."