Massachusetts Teachers’ Unions Push for Delay in Return to In-School Learning: ‘This Whole Process Is Being Rushed’

Classroom with students with hands raised

Massachusetts teachers’ unions are backing a piece of emergency legislation filed by state lawmakers that would block the Bay State’s education commissioner from mandating that all districts return to in-person learning by April 5.

“This whole process is being rushed, being pushed by unelected bureaucrats who are out of touch with reality,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), reported the Boston Globe Sunday. “They don’t understand the amount of change that has to happen in the next couple of weeks to be ready.”

Democrat state Reps. Lindsay Sabadosa and James Hawkins filed the legislation that would prevent school districts from having to return to in-person learning prior to April 26.

The teachers’ unions have been in a battle with Gov. Charlie Baker (R) over the unions’ demand that teachers receive their vaccinations in schools. The governor has rejected diverting the vaccine doses away from the larger vaccination sites and toward the specific population of teachers.

“I am not going to be in a position where I take vaccine away from people who are extremely vulnerable, have multiple medical conditions and are over the age of 65 to give it to a targeted population,” Baker said, according to WHDH News. “We’re just not going to play that game.”

Baker’s senior adviser Tim Buckley explained the state receives only 150,000 new first doses of the vaccine per week.

“Diverting hundreds of thousands of vaccines to an exclusive, teacher-only distribution system would deny the most vulnerable and the most disproportionately impacted residents hundreds of thousands of vaccines,” Buckley said.

However, leaders of the MTA, joined by those of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), accused the Baker administration of “pitting one vulnerable group against another.”

“The administration’s mischaracterization of educators as somehow seeking to take vaccines away from the sick and elderly is untrue and defamatory,” said Najimy, AFT-Massachusetts President Beth Kontos, and BTU President Jessica Tang.

“From the onset, our unions have advocated for classifying educators as essential workers and for vaccinating them at the same time as others who are eligible within the current phase of the rollout,” the union leaders added.

But, Baker said the unions “were looking for their own vaccine and to not participate in the process that everyone else participates in.”

According to the WHDH report:

Baker only opened the state’s vaccination program to teachers on Thursday after the White House last week urged states to begin vaccinating educators in March and began making doses available to teachers through the federal pharmacy vaccine program.

The administration then announced on Wednesday that it would set aside four weekend days in late March and early April at the state’s seven mass vaccinations when teachers exclusively could book vaccine appointments. The governor also said he was encouraging regional vaccine collaboratives to also specify days for educators.

The Baker administration observed 95 percent of teachers are under the age of 65 and at reduced risk from becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus.

“We can re-open schools safely, even if all of the teachers are not vaccinated,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky also said in early February.

“Building an entirely new, exclusive, teacher-only, school by school distribution system would make Massachusetts’ vaccination system slower, less equitable and far more complicated,” Buckley said.

Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano (D) said blame for the battle between Baker and the unions lies with the administration.

“It’s a problem that was created by the administration in setting a date certain to have schools reopen and raising the issue of safety in our schools and not having a plan on how to make sure that they can guarantee that the schools are safe,” he said.

Baker said, however, the procedure his administration has adopted is “completely consistent with the process that’s being used in virtually every other state in the country.”

“Why? Because it’s effective, it’s efficient and it gets a lot of shots in people arms in a short period of time,” the governor said.


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