BOSTON (CBS) – A new Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) memo is making the rounds across school districts. The letter, sent out last week, details what superintendents might need to get ready to re-open in the fall.
Among the possible rules, maintaining physical distancing, requirements to wear face coverings and limits to class sizes — no more than 10 students assigned to one teacher.
“Now, in a time of crisis, when we’re laying off people like educators, we’re gonna ask less educators to do more, enough, we’re tired,” said Graciela Mohamedi, a Brookline High School physics teacher.
Mohamedi is one of more than 300 Brookline educators who were pink slipped two weeks ago, after school officials realized their budget was short $6.3M. She’s since been advocating the district recall those laid off. Last week, the Brookline School Committee announced it found ways to close much of the gap, but re-hiring all teachers who have received notices is not guaranteed.
“To be in a community that I chose to move to as a parent because of its firm commitment to education. To then be recruited from a stable job to come and be part of this magical school system. To have that and then without reason be let go, it’s heartbreaking,” said Mohamedi. “I had to tell my daughter that her mother and her favorite school teacher were laid off on the same day.”
Mohamedi’s classroom is in a converted gym space. She’s concerned wearing masks and spacing out desks will make for a stressed learning environment. “I can’t run a project based hands-on class if my students aren’t allowed to touch things,” Mohamedi said. “I can’t run a collaborative process if they aren’t allowed to be in the same room or talking to each other at the same table.”
The DESE memo also calls for districts to buy their own supplies, like masks, face shields, gloves, gowns and sanitizer. The education commissioner says the state will help facilitate access to suppliers.
“This is madness. When we have an emergency in a society, like a hurricane or a pandemic, we have a federal government and a state government that sets aside emergency funds,” said Brookline Educators Union President Jessica Wender-Shubow. “These funds need to be released to the school systems so that we don’t have to cut into our curriculum materials, our ability to retain our teachers, our ability to anticipate the need for more educators.”
(DESE) has made $193.8 million in federal funds available to help districts address needs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as technology and safety supplies. A spokeswoman says the money, provided by CARES Act Elementary and Secondary Education Emergency Relief Funds, is allocated based on district poverty levels.
“In addition, DESE will be providing a bulk state ordering opportunity through which districts can submit their orders and payment to make the process as easy as possible,” said a department spokeswoman.
The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association opposes the guidance that would make districts responsible for purchasing its own protective equipment. In a statement, Merrie Najimy likened the move to “President Trump telling states they had to buy their own ventilators and testing supplies. Rather than using the centralized authority and purchasing power of the federal government to protect public health and safety by making vital equipment available.”
Najimy said the move would also disproportionately impact communities of color, “which have been historically subjected to structural racism through disinvestment in their public schools and other crucial services.”
The teachers union called the possible plan impractical, in particular, the staff to student ratio of 10:2. Najimy said that while necessary it “will necessitate at least doubling the number of staff, even as public schools are on the verge of issuing large numbers of layoff notices, or pink slips, to educators,” Najimy said. “None of this can be accomplished safely if school budgets are cut and staff are laid off, leading to larger classes and less ability to achieve physical distancing, perform deep cleaning, and implement the other health and safety measures required.”