State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley is putting pressure on some Massachusetts school districts to return to in-person learning.

The leader of the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is pushing some public school districts to get students back into the classroom, including three in Berkshire County.

Commissioner Riley sent a letter to 16 school districts that began the year with remote learning, despite having “very low” rates of Covid-19 transmission, stating that he was concerned that the school committees voted to keep students learning remotely to start the school year.

In light of the stark discrepancy between local public health data and your reopening plan, I am requesting a timeline by which you anticipate providing in-person instruction for the majority of your students

Commissioner Jeffrey Riley

Included on list of districts who received the letter were Pittsfield, Hoosac Valley Regional and Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter.

The districts that received the letter are all designated green or gray on the state’s color-coded COVID-19 map. The state has recommended remote learning for only communities who have been designated “red” for three weeks in a row.

According to WWLP, district's have 10 days to respond to the letter which requests a timetable for the return to the classroom, however the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) calls the letter “threatening” and says the Department of Education is undermining local decisions to keep kids remote

It’s [DESE] Commissioner Riley’s typical bullying tactics to drive a reckless agenda of pushing education communities back into school buildings against their will.

MTA President Merrie Najimy

The letter was sent to the following school districts:

East Longmeadow
West Springfield
Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public
Hoosac Valley Regional
Mohawk Trail/Hawlemont
Manchester Essex Regional
Mohawk Trail

According to The Berkshire Eagle, Superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools Dr. Jake McCandless says in-person learning at PPS could be up and running by late October, "if trends in coronavirus cases hold and agreement is reached with employee unions."

Monday McCandless said some, including English language learners, special ed and some vocational students, will be the first to transition back to classrooms part time beginning next week. The remainder of the students, except those who enroll in full-year virtual school, would return to classrooms by Oct. 26. "By that date," McCandless said, "we would hope to have accomplished the process of going from remote to hybrid."

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