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Judge rules Boston Public Schools must remain open, despite teachers union’s objections

Boston Public Schools will remain open for in-person teaching to a limited number of students, despite Boston Teachers Union’s objections, according to a Wednesday Suffolk Superior Court ruling. 

A member of the Boston Teachers Union speaks at a press conference on Sept. 18. Boston Public Schools must remain open for in-person teaching despite opposition from the BTU due to a Wednesday Superior Court ruling. LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

BTU had filed an injunction earlier this month, requesting that teachers be allowed to teach remotely while the City’s positivity rate remains above 4 percent.

Mayor Marty Walsh and BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius wrote in a joint statement that they approve of the court’s decision.

“We are pleased that the court has preserved the opportunity for our highest needs students to continue learning inside our schools,” they wrote, “supported with the critical services that they require and deserve.”

Former public school teacher Darin Detwiler, now assistant dean of Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies, said while he opposes a full reopening of schools, he fully supports keeping schools open for the limited number of students that need it.

Many students with special needs require a specific learning environment that can only be created through in-person instruction, Detwiler said.

“There are visuals. There are resources. There’s even just the ability to look at the teacher’s face, for the teacher to look at the students’ face,” Detwiler said, “to interact, to have visual cues, hand gestures, things of that nature that you just cannot replicate in an online learning environment.”

Detwiler said he acknowledges the safety issues inherent in keeping schools open, but that online learning poses challenges for students and teachers. He added that students without access to reliable internet or technology cannot engage as effectively as their peers.

The pandemic and resulting transition to online classes, Detwiler said, has also hurt teachers.

“They got into it to teach on the ground, in person, to have that environment, to have that role model, that leadership role, to play that important role in students’ lives,” Detwiler said. “The vast majority of public school teachers did not get into this profession to teach online.” 

Dawn Oates, the mother of a child with special health care needs, said the pandemic has put a “tremendous burden” on many parents.

She said while the transition to remote learning has been surprisingly easy for her family, she acknowledges it has not been as smooth for many others.

“A parent isn’t always the most effective teacher,” Oates said. “There are professionals who go to school for years to become great teachers, and then all of a sudden these moms and dads are thrown into the fire.” 

Families are also struggling to find nurses for their children because of a shortage caused by the pandemic, Oates said. School districts have also been unable to send service providers, despite it being a provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“That’s a big deal. The ADA was put in place for a reason,” Oates said. “We’re getting punched in five different spots. We are getting kicked while we’re down like never before.”

Nalida Besson, a teacher for visually impaired students and parent of three children with special needs, said she believes BPS should not reopen.

Besson added that the decision also disproportionately affects Black and Latinx populations, which are already disproportionately harmed by COVID-19.

“Just continuing on with the plan is almost like walking into a building that’s on fire,” Besson said. “We’re just like, ‘Okay we could try to put out a fire in this room and that room, but the fire is still raging but we’re still moving on.’”

Because one of her daughters is immunocompromised, Besson said she requested an accommodation to teach remotely and presented a letter from her daughter’s doctor. BPS denied her request because they do not accommodate for high-risk family members, Besson said.

Besson added she is on partial paid leave, but it expires Nov. 30. Her options afterward are to return in-person, to take a personal leave — without pay or benefits — or to resign.

Though she is still debating options, Besson said she may need to find another job to keep her family safe. Continuing to perform her job puts her at risk of becoming a “superspreader,” she said, but the families she serves also see it as a gamble worth taking.

“The students and parents are saying they’re willing to take that risk, because they need their kids to get in-person services,” Besson said. “But it’s not just your child. It’s your child, it’s other children, and it’s the staff members. It’s everybody’s lives.”

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  1. I had the pleasure to work with Mrs. Besson in Boston Public School. She is a outstanding teacher very dedicated to her job and her family . Is it fair to tell her after Nov 30th you have to make a decision Your JOB or your family. I bet we have other teachers . Just not fair how the school dept. doesn’t care about the teachers and the Students .