Court denies Boston Teachers Union’s motion calling for a fully remote learning schedule

BOSTON — A Suffolk Superior Court judge has denied the Boston Teachers Union’s injunction calling for a halt to in-person learning as cases of COVID-19 in the city continue to rise.

The injunction, filed about a week ago, called to stop in-person learning and switch back to remote as the city of Boston’s COVID-19 infection rate kept on rising.

The union wanted the judge to put a 10-day order in place that would require the district to go into remote learning while they worked on a new learning plan with the city and district.

As of last week, Boston has been considered a “red zone” for COVID-19, meaning people were at higher risk of contracting the virus in the city.

The union had argued the district was not complying with the memorandum of agreement both parties had signed on to, which would have required BPS to transition to fully remote learning as the city was considered at high risk for COVID-19.

Under the terms of the MOA, “If the citywide COVID-19 positivity rate rises above 4% citywide, BPS will transition to full remote learning for all students, and BTU bargaining unit members will have the option to be remote as well.”

On Wednesday, the court decided to deny the union’s injunction under the premise that BPS schools never really fully closed, wherein the union, “lacked the authority to determine, based on the evaluation of the Boston Public Health Commission, that school districts could ‘reopen,’ because they never allowed schools to full close (as required) on Oct. 7, 2020.”

The court went on to say that, due to the fact that schools “failed to close to on-site learning as of that date, BTU insists, and having instead commanded teachers and staff to continue providing in-person services to high-need students, the Boston Public Schools possessed no contractual authority [...] to either ‘reopen’ the schools or dictate that ‘bargaining unit members...return to BPS buildings.’”

The ruling states “one cannot ‘reopen’ schools that were never closed, and high-need teachers and staff cannot ‘return to BPS buildings’ that they were never allowed to leave in the first place.” The judge then states the BTU violated the MOA and therefore have no standing on filing an injunction.

“While BTU’s position does not lack for textual logic, it ultimately proves too much and asks the Court to impose an outcome that could not reasonably have been intended by these parties.”

Ultimately, the court stated that the Boston Public Health Commission has the final say in whether school districts can be open to in-person learning. While the MOA states that the district has to transition to remote learning if the city’s average positivity rate rises above 4%, it is up to the BPH to determine when the school district can reopen, and, at that point, “BTU bargaining unit members will be expected to return to BPS buildings.”

Currently, more than 1,000 high-priority students are attending school in-person. The district currently educates more than 54,000 students and employs over 10,000 teachers and aides deployed across 125 school buildings throughout the city.

In a statement, Mayor Marty Walsh and BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said:

“We are pleased that the court has preserved the opportunity for our highest needs students to continue learning inside our schools, supported with the critical services that they require and deserve. We deeply appreciate the hard work, unwavering commitment, and public service of our staff, including those who have been reporting to classrooms for in-person teaching and learning, and we look forward to working together towards a successful school year in service of our students and families.”

Boston 25 has reached out to the union for a comment but has not heard back yet.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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