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Ed. Commissioner Riley Facing Backlash From Teachers Unions

Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. (State House News Service)
Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. (State House News Service)

More than 100 local teachers unions have taken a vote of no confidence in Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley over concerns about his leadership during the pandemic, union representatives told the state education board on Tuesday.

Haverhill Education Association President Anthony Parolisi, a civics teacher, read a declaration he said was signed by more than 50,000 members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. He described the votes and declaration as a grassroots effort that originated from several union locals, not the MTA.

Parolisi said the signatories want to see Riley changes his practices, listen more to educators, and "stop trying to overrule local decisions and strong-arm them into reopening schools."

But Colleen Quinn, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Education, said in a statement to WBUR that in-school transmission of the coronavirus in Massachusetts public schools has been "very limited." She also cited medical experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told ABC News recently that policy-makers should try to keep children in school.

"While unions engage in baseless attacks, we remain committed to children’s education and the best interests of staff, students and families and continue to believe that in person learning is best for the academic and emotional health of our students,” Quinn said in the statement.

"We are trying, with our superintendents and school committees, to hold this fragile and difficult system of remote and hybrid learning together for the benefit of our students," Parolisi said. "It is extremely disruptive when the commissioner changes the rules without even talking to us about what is working, what isn't, what support we need from the state to succeed."

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is slated to vote on emergency regulations that would adjust standards for remote and hybrid learning, setting new requirements for minimum levels of live and synchronous instruction. The meeting opened with comments from a panel of superintendents, who said they supported the regulations' goals of student engagement but voiced concerns around specifics.

Billerica superintendent Tim Piwowar said the proposed regulations "focus on the quantity of teaching that is delivered, not the quality of learning that is achieved."

With additional reporting from the WBUR newsroom

This article was originally published on December 15, 2020.

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