With the start of fall classes less than two months away, three of the state's largest teachers unions have proposed to state officials their ideas on how Massachusetts should work to achieve a safe learning experience for educators, students and their families.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts and the Boston Teachers Unionsent a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on Monday, calling for a four-phased approach to the upcoming school year.

MTA President Merrie Najimy told WGBH News it is patterned after the Baker administration's statewide reopening plan.

"Our plan is rooted in the notion that our students will be returning to us with needs that we don't fully understand yet," she said.

Phase one will give teachers and other school personnel time to set up classrooms, learn about new health and safety protocols, prepare for students' return and have professional development.

"Educators need time before the students come in to learn new strategies of how to address trauma," Najimy said.

Phase two would allow educators to meet the students and their families, either virtually or in-person. In addition to using the time to explain the new health protocols, the letter says this stage will be "used for social emotional wellness checks, basic needs assessments, an evaluation of technology needs and reconnecting with students, families and school communities."

Instruction would then begin around a month later, under phase three — either remotely, in person, or a combination of the two. The letter states that the academic curriculum "should be informed by what students need and by what will engage them," and should be created by ground-level educators.

"Business-as-usual instructional approaches — organized around 'covering the curriculum,' test prep and test administration — must be avoided, as these will distract from real learning, cause unneeded stress, and produce meaningless results in the case of standardized tests," the letter reads.

Phase Four would be an assessment of educational progress and public health, and should take place six to eight weeks after school starts. In this phase, schools will decide whether to continue as planned or change course.

"All it takes is one child or one educator to contract the virus in school, and then they bring it home to their communities and then we have another surge," Najimy said.

The proposal also calls for the state to pay for personal protective equipment, along with fully funding existing child care programs so that educators and parents can return to work. The MCAS should be waived, it states, along with the MCAS graduation requirement for incoming senior, junior, sophomore and freshman classes.

The teachers unions are also calling for teacher layoffs to be rescinded, and that all districts should be required to evaluate, upgrade and repair windows and HVAC systems in their school buildings to meet OSHA standards.

Najimy said union leaders met Monday to listen to state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley's reaction to their phased-in approach.

"We may be at a moment where it's possible to move forward with a phased-in reopening. He's willing to talk about it, but I can tell you every educator's reaction to his framework is that it's making us feel like we become the petri dishes, the science experiments," she said.

Riley told WGBH News in an interview earlier this week that schools will either reopen fully, with social distancing measures put in place, continue to be fully online, or in a hybrid fashion that will combine the two.

Riley also said that when schools do reopen, they will need to take extra safety precautions, including maintaining a stockpile of personal protective equipment.

When asked for comment in response to the teachers unions' proposal, DESE sent this statement: “The Department will continue to collaborate with medical professionals, school officials and key stakeholders to ensure a healthy, safe and productive return to school.”

Najimy said that meetings between the teachers unions and Riley will continue twice a week for the next several weeks. She remains adamant about the dangers surrounding in-person learning during the pandemic.

"There's absolutely no way that we can return with everybody in the buildings without risking the virus spreading," Najimy said. "This is our moment to take a thoughtful approach to figure out how to create a new way forward, understanding that the pandemic is with us for at least a year."