Returning to In-Person Learning in Lawrence Public Schools
Dear Members of the Lawrence Teachers’ Union,
We are writing today to request a meeting to discuss a return to in-person learning in Lawrence Public Schools. We recognize that this school year has been exceptionally challenging for teachers, students, administrators, and staff, and we are so grateful for all the hard work that LTU 1019 members have put in to help Lawrence’s children continue to learn and grow in spite of the pandemic.
However, months of remote learning have had a severe impact on the socioemotional well-being of our students, and the district’s ongoing failure to return to in-person education will exacerbate the achievement gap between students in Lawrence and those in wealthier communities. In order to provide our students with the best education, policymakers and members of the school community need to work together to ensure that Lawrence’s children return to in-person learning as soon as possible. We know that teachers would prefer to spend time with students in the classroom instead of behind a screen, and we look forward to working in a collaborative manner with members of LTU 1019 to make in-person education a reality.
The science is clear: as the President of the American Academy of Pediatricians has underscored, “Children absolutely need to return to in-school learning for their healthy development and well-being.” Leading pediatricians and public health experts made a similar argument in a letter to DESE Commissioner Riley last week. The letter emphasized how remote learning has resulted in learning loss, as well as increased behavioral and physical health issues. Simply put, in-person learning is crucial for children to develop socioemotional skills and peer relationships. In that vein, children who suffer maltreatment at home often rely on access to professionals at school who deal with these issues, and remote support networks are inadequate substitutes.
Online learning has proven to be especially harmful for poorer communities of color and students with disabilities. Many families in Lawrence have struggled with Internet and technology access during the pandemic, and working parents have been hard pressed to help their children navigate the difficulties of remote learning. As the AAP has indicated, “Without access to the support systems schools provide, disparities among students who are Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native and living in poverty will continue to widen.” These disparities will widen even more if wealthier, whiter communities return to in-person education much sooner than less well-off, more diverse communities.
With proper safety protocols in place, in-person learning has been conclusively shown to be safe. Mandatory masking, robust ventilation systems, enforced social distancing, and new developments in rapid testing have helped schools prevent COVID outbreaks and quickly respond to new cases. The best available evidence shows that COVID-19 transmission in schools is low among both teachers and students, particularly younger students.
Massachusetts schools that have remained open for in-person education have rarely had intra-school transmission. Schools in other states have had similar success. For example, in the fall of 2020, 11 North Carolina school districts with more than 90,000 students and staff were open for in-person education for 9 weeks with strong safety protocols. School re-opening did not lead to community spread: out of the school population, there were only 32 infections acquired in school, 773 community-acquired infections, and no cases of student-to-staff transmission. In Wisconsin, infection rates were even lower in schools than in the broader community. It bears emphasis that Lawrence’s public health situation continues to improve, with COVID positivity rates dropping sharply and daily cases falling from 171 per 100,000 in mid-January to less than 47.5 per 100,000 this past week. Now is the time to bring back our students.
Yesterday, Commissioner Riley encouraged all districts, regardless of community COVID prevalence, to start planning to bring back elementary school students in either a hybrid or fully in-person model. Our youngest students need in-person education the most and are least likely to spread the virus, and we hope that LTU 1019 will work with school administrators to help these children have in-person educational opportunities. We also believe that students in transition years (such as 6th, 9th, and 12th grades) should be prioritized for in-person learning, and that planning should start now for year-round learning for high-needs students and those whom teachers identify need additional support.
Overall, Lawrence’s students desperately need to return to in-person learning, and we want to work with you to do so in a safe and methodical manner. We look forward to scheduling a meeting with you and hearing your input on this pivotal issue.
Sen. Barry R. Finegold
Rep. Christina A. Minicucci
Rep. Frank A. Moran
Rep. Marcos A. Devers
Mayor Kendrys Vasquez