With Massachusetts starting the third phase of its economic reopening, the head of the state's largest teachers union on Sunday said the return to school in the fall should be approached in a phased-in way, with time for teachers to prepare for new health and safety protocols, as well as to update curriculums.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said the union would be presenting its own plan to reopen school "in the next week and beyond," and has meetings planned with Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to "bargain at the state level." She said the union has been working on the plan with its more than 300 local unions.

Najimy and the MTA have taken issue with Gov. Charlie Baker's plan to allow for the reopening of schools in the fall, including the union's disagreement with the administration and the American Academy of Pedriatrics that three feet of space between desks will be sufficient to protect students. Najimy said six-feet should be the minimum distance for separation.

"We did not rush into opening the state economy. We cannot rush into opening schools just because the calendar says we need to return to school in August or September," Najimy said during an appearance on WCVB's On the Record on Sunday.

The state is making more than $200 million available for schools to purchase personal protective equipment, but Najimy said even more funding is necessary, and she said teachers need time to update curriculum to respond to students' emotional needs during the pandemic, as well as the current social awakening to racial justice issues.

She did not, however, dispute the need to return to the classroom.

"What we have confirmed that we did know is the best way to learn is when people are together in the classroom. Learning is an emotional process. It's a cooperative process. You lose too much to have kids be home behind a screen," Najimy said.

~ Matt Murphy/SHNS

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