Massachusetts schools will need more federal funding to help close widening achievement gaps in needy communities, the state education board commissioner said Thursday, while teachers still push for a safe reopening.
“We think the federal government is going to need to help us more in the coming days,” said Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley.
Riley said in addition to state funding, Massachusetts also been able to secure two federal grants, one for $194 million and another for $202 million, which will go out to districts to cover expenses such as cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and technology.
But Riley, speaking on a Facebook live event with U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, said even more funding is needed.
“My pitch to you is that we really need that additional support, particularly in our most needy communities to deal with any gaps that could widen,” said Riley to Trahan.
Riley, noting that some communities have been hit harder by COVID-19 than others, said additional supports such as technology and special services will be necessary for the students of the highest need.
Massachusetts has seen positive coronavirus trends in recent weeks, and Riley said it’s possible to get kids back in the classroom while keeping an eye on metrics.
“We have to be cautious around the trajectory of the virus because even though our numbers are really strong right now, and the numbers are low, we cannot guarantee there won’t be a second spike at some point during the year,” said Riley.
“Innumerable supports” have also been put out to districts to care for the mental health of students, according to Riley, such as webinars, training and telehealth services.
“You’ve seen depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, even suicidal ideation, and there are real health issues that come with kids not being in school,” said Riley.
Teachers unions across the state have rallied for weeks for a safe start to the year, most demanding remote learning instead of hybrid in-person models.
Tewksbury educators staged a rally on Thursday afternoon in an effort to show solidarity as bargaining for safe reopening conditions is ongoing.
Teachers and districts have also clashed with the DESE over a recent expectation that educators should conduct remote lessons from the classroom instead of at home.
Districts such as Springfield and Worcester have already dropped the guidance, as previously reported in the Herald.
Video: Teachers threaten strikes in Detroit, New York City over coronavirus fears (NBC News)