Haverhill Education Association Among More Than 100 Local Unions to Protest Changing COVID-19 Rules

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members Jasper Coughlin, Darlene Lombos, Amanda Fernandez and James Morton raised their hands to cast “no” votes on amendments to student learning time regulations, which passed 7-4. (Screenshot via State House News Service.)

The Haverhill Education Association was one of more than 100 local teachers’ unions to take a vote of no confidence in Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley over concerns about his leadership during the pandemic.

The petition was presented Tuesday during a regular meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Haverhill Education Association President Anthony J. Parolisi, an Albert B. Consentino School civics teacher, read a declaration signed by more than 50,000 members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

“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.”

According to a press release, a major change was the abrupt announcement on Nov. 6 that the state’s transmission risk metrics were being altered to dramatically reduce the number of communities identified as “high risk,” even as the number of cases was skyrocketing.

“We worked with local health officials and elected leaders for months to develop an education plan that met DESE guidelines and addressed conditions in our community, only to have the rug pulled out from under us when the commissioner changed the metrics and reopening guidance,” Parolisi said.

Another example, he said, was the board’s plan to vote on new “emergency” regulations altering requirements for synchronous learning without discussing the proposal with the educators who would be directly impacted.

He described the votes and declaration as a grassroots effort that originated from several union locals, not the Massachusetts Teachers Association. 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.”

Responding to the unions’ votes, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Education said in a statement that instances of in-school COVID-19 transmission in Massachusetts have been “very limited.” “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,” said spokeswoman Colleen Quinn.

Besides Haverhill, other are unions approving the no confidence vote were Greater Lawrence Education Justice Alliance and Andover Education Association.

Katie Lannan of State House News Service contributed to this report.

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