Keller @ Large: Massachusetts Education Secretary Hopeful Testing Program Will Accelerate In-Person Learning

WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller talks to Massachusetts Sec. of Education Jim Peyser.

Video Transcript

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JON KELLER: Well, good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us. I spoke with a young mother the other day who was absolutely beside herself about the situation involving her two school-aged children and their access to getting back to school. Let's get an up to the moment update on what's going on with getting the kids back to school, what the issues are, and what the near future holds with our guest, the Secretary of Education here in the Commonwealth, Jim Peyser. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

JIM PEYSER: Morning. Thanks for being-- thanks for having me. Good to be here.

JON KELLER: Thank you for being with us. So what can you say to that young mother to reassure her? Or can you say anything to reassure her?

JIM PEYSER: There's no question that students have failed to make progress academically and developmentally, and in too many cases have actually lost ground on all fronts. So the first priority has to be to bring as many students as we possibly can back into their schools, back into their classrooms with their teachers, with their peers for in-person instruction as soon as possible.

That is happening, but on a very-- on an unfortunately too slow basis. We probably now have something on the order of, let's say, 15% of our schools are back fully in person. Another 20% may be fully remote. And the remainder are in some kind of hybrid mode where students are in school for some of the time and home for the rest.

We are now in the process of launching a statewide-- first in the nation, really-- testing program, COVID testing program, that allows for weekly testing of all students and staff to give them the information they need to operate schools even more safely than following the existing protocols about handwashing and mask-wearing and distancing. And we're very hopeful that that will allow us to accelerate the process of bringing all students back into school. And I think that's consistent not only with our DPH guidance, but also with the guidance that's come out recently from the CDC.

JON KELLER: Is that going to satisfy the teacher unions that have been bitterly resisting the pressure from the state and local communities to come back?

JIM PEYSER: I'm hopeful that they will see because they have certainly made this point themselves that it is-- that in-person instruction remains the sort of gold standard, if you will, for teaching and learning. And we need to get back to that as soon as possible. And anything we can do in terms of trying to make these COVID tests available-- available at an affordable price, if not totally free to schools and districts, I think is the way to do that.

JON KELLER: At what point, if this isn't resolved, do you just pulled the plug on the school year and shoot for the fall?

JIM PEYSER: So we do not have the luxury of pulling the plug on the school year. We're going to continue to fight to bring students and staff back into schools as soon as possible and as safely as possible. And we think that can happen during the school year.

It's obviously happening already in hundreds of schools across the state both public and private in a lot of different circumstances and different communities. And so we think it's-- that we have to all have a sense of urgency around making this happen as soon as possible.

JON KELLER: We have to take a break. But again, teacher unions-- most people love their teachers. Teacher unions serve a valuable purpose. I don't think anyone begrudges teachers, their concerns about their own health. But I've spoken to other public officials who are furious with the unions For what they perceive as damaging and unnecessary intransigence. Are you one of them?

JIM PEYSER: I'm definitely concerned about the labor Management challenges that have made it difficult to bring students back into school. I don't want to point fingers of blame at anyone here. But I think the evidence is clear that schools are safe places to be for both students and for adults.

It's happening around the state, around the country, and across the world even. And the research is backing that up, you know, almost every step of the way that it's probably safer to be in school than it is to be at home.

JON KELLER: All right. Let's take that break, and we'll continue our conversation with the state Secretary of Education Jim Peyser in just a moment.