ALLOWING PUBLIC school teachers to strike would be “a bridge too far” and disregards the pandemic lessons about the importance of in-person learning, the state’s education commissioner said Tuesday as the largest teachers’ unions gears up to lobby legislators for that authority in the new session.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Max Page filled the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in Tuesday on the union’s priorities, having publicly announced them earlier this month.

The first two priorities were to secure more money for education, both through the impending income surtax and traditional funding sources. But third on the MTA’s priority list is to “reclaim” the right to strike, which Page said teachers would exercise “out of love for their students and a public service to each commonwealth when there is a necessary need to do that.”

Though teachers in some communities have gone on strike this year, striking is illegal for Massachusetts public school educators due to a state law that stipulates “no public employee or employee organization shall engage in a strike, and no public employee or employee organization shall induce, encourage or condone any strike, work stoppage, slowdown or withholding of services by such public employees.”

During his updates to the board later Tuesday morning, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said he wanted to make an “off the cuff” statement about what he heard from Page.

“I’m somewhat shocked to see the MTA president coming before us today looking to petition the Legislature to allow unions to strike. I want to be clear, I’m a supporter of collective bargaining rights, but I just think this is a bridge too far at this time,” Riley said. “Our focus needs to be on the kids. The kids need to be in school. But, you know, I think more details to follow on that. I just think that’s concerning to me personally. After COVID, I think if we’ve learned nothing it’s that the children need to be in school.”

The Committee on Labor and Workforce Development in September sent a bill filed this session to repeal the prohibition on public employee and public employee organization strikes (H 1946) to a study, almost always a dead end for legislation.