While a caravan protest circled the block, members of the Boston Teachers Union rallied outside City Hall Thursday, urging city and school officials to rethink a proposed “hybrid” plan that would alternate in-person and remote learning.

“We want to go back to school, but we don't want to go back if we're putting our students lives at risk,” said Rosalinda Midence, a counselor at the Boston Day and Evening Academy. “We are creating more trauma and setting them up for failure. Show us how your buildings will be ready. Show us how we will make sure our schools will be cleaned. We barely have soap for our students to wash their hands. Our schools are all dirty, have no ventilation, broken windows and filthy bathrooms. So you tell me, is that ready?”

While Midence spoke, more than 100 BTU members, teachers and students gathered, holding signs that read “Safe School Restart” and “Boston Kids Deserve Safety.” A few members from the group went into City Hall to deliver a proposed plan directly to the desk of Mayor Marty Walsh.

A hybrid or 'hopscotch' draft plan proposed earlier this month by Boston Public Schools would alternate groups of students for in-person and remote learning, with a small group of remote-only students. Teachers would be expected to come into school buildings, even on days when the buildings are scheduled to be sanitized.

Erik Berg, the executive vice president of the BTU and a teacher at the John D. Philbrick Elementary School in Roslindale, said this plan would endanger the health of both students and teachers during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are calling for a full remote start and a very small, gradually phased-in move to in-person learning, rather than do this sort of hopscotch plan that sends everybody all at once, although half at a time. We think that's just a recipe for disaster,” Berg said. “We want to start slowly, learn lessons from what has worked well. Start with the kids who struggled the most with remote learning in the spring and learn from that, and adjust and recalibrate as public health conditions and weather and facilities allow.”

BTU organizers march through City Hall Plaza on Aug. 13.
Tori Bedford WGBH News

At a protest outside the state house Wednesday, some parents urged the state to reopen with an in-person model and only return to remote learning if another uptick in cases should occur. Joel Richards, who teaches at Blackstone Elementary School in Boston, says part of the message of Thursday’s protest was that returning in-person in any capacity is too big of a risk to take.

“We're not saying we don't want to reopen, but we want to reopen correctly,” Richards told WGBH News Thursday. “We can't afford another interruption if we open and then all of a sudden there's another spike and we have to close. We can’t afford for East Boston to spike again. We can’t afford for Mattapan or Dorchester to spike again — that’s a lot of loss.”

The BTU was joined by members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the third-largest nurses union in the country. “How we handle reopening schools is going to be one of the most important decisions our society makes during this pandemic,” MNA member and Methuen Public School nurse leader Patty Cameau said to the crowd. “If we do not listen to and involve school nurses, we will put many lives at risk.”

The protest comes as BTU members and the Boston Public School Department continue negotiations over a contract. Berg said they plan to continue negotiations until at least Wednesday of next week. Despite a recent rollback in the state’s reopening, BPS is still scheduled to begin classes on September 10.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor Marty Walsh defended the BPS draft plan and said the city’s positive test rate rose from 2.1% to 2.8% in recent weeks, dipping to about 2.5% in the last week. “It’s an uptick but it’s not an established trend,” Walsh said. “These numbers still remain far below levels we saw during the surge in April and May, and they would not cause us to look at rolling back any of the openings that we’ve already had here in the City of Boston.”

Nayely Martinez, a recent graduate of Fenway High School, speaks at the protest on Thursday.
Tori Bedford WGBH News

Nayely Martinez, a 2020 graduate of Fenway High School, urged BPS and the city to implement a remote plan that includes extracurriculars and mental health services that could be provided to students upon their in-person return.

“Schools should be a place that kids want to go, to learn the materials that they need to become functional and healthy adults,” Martinez said. “In school, I valued the interaction and connection I had with teachers and classmates, which cannot happen with this plan in place. Instead of trying to prematurely send kids to school, the district should focus on funding schools so that BPS can send us back to school safely.”