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Hopkinton teachers: Concerns about return ‘still linger in our minds’

by | Aug 23, 2020 | Education, Z-Lead Image Front Page

Editor’s note: Following is a statement from Hopkinton Teachers Association president Becky Abate, in response to Friday’s statement from the Hopkinton School Committee.

Although statements are not typically issued during negotiations, and are even more rarely issued without notice to the party with which one is bargaining, the Hopkinton School Committee has chosen to do so. Therefore, the Hopkinton Teachers Association feels compelled to respond to the School Committee’s statement so that the community is given full transparency into what has been offered to Hopkinton educators and of the concerns that still linger in our minds, one week prior to our scheduled return to school.

Child Care:​ It is true that the district has been able to secure a deal with Kidsborough to offer 60 spots of child care to the children of Hopkinton educators, and it is true that many would call the rates offered “reasonable,” but the fact remains that this cost of $1,100/month per child is far from affordable for many families, especially those needing care for multiple children. We are sure that there are many families in Hopkinton who are experiencing this same issue of facing a financial burden that no parent of school-aged children has budgeted for. We are also sure that many families in town share in the concern of exposing their children not just to the cohort of their school classmates, but now to a new, revolving and less predictable cohort of children in a day care situation. There are many children of Hopkinton educators who, due to special health concerns or educational needs, would benefit from being able to remain at home during their remote learning days and unfortunately, for many families, this won’t be a choice. Again, educators are not alone with this concern or reality, as every parent across the country is making these same difficult choices as they try to keep a paycheck coming in while also wanting to protect their family’s health and meet their children’s educational needs. ​Those of you in this situation will recognize that the mere presence of this child care option does not make it affordable, safe or in the best interests of a child.

Teacher Retention: ​The HTA is very pleased that so many ADA accommodations have been granted to educators so that they may remain employed and able to instruct Hopkinton students. We recognize that a huge sum of money is being invested into hiring new staff to do so. However, we strongly believe that the health and safety of students and staff should always be prioritized over what is convenient or cost-effective​. Hopkinton Public Schools has a moral obligation to do everything they can to support the educators who are devoted to serving the students of the district. So, while we are grateful that most teachers in high-risk health groups will not need to make a choice between a paycheck and health insurance and protecting their health, we believe these decisions should have been prioritized by the district from the start of their planning, which could have helped them avoid the extra expense they are facing.

​It is also very important to note that some teachers, who have been given elected-remote students to teach due to health reasons, are still being required to report to the school each day where they will be given an interior classroom (most without windows) to sit in all day and teach children who are at home. ​These teachers will still be using common spaces, such as bathrooms, where they will still experience potential exposure.

To help illustrate this point, let us share with you the story of one teacher who has been given one of these “remote assignments” as an ADA accommodation. This teacher has asthma that is triggered by exposure to cleaning supplies and ingredients found in common hand sanitizers. This teacher’s doctor has advised that they should remain at home as much as possible to avoid serious asthma-related health issues. This teacher has spent the last six months with limited exposure outside of the home. ​This teacher is now being told that even though their students will be home, they must come and sit in an empty room to teach them, even though a medical doctor has advised that they work from home.

Safety:​ At this time, HTA has yet to receive the reports by outside HVAC evaluators that have been referenced many times by Dr. Cavanaugh. When HTA requested these documents, we were told they should be arriving before the students return on September 14th. This response seems to be made without regard for the safety of staff who return on August 31st and whose health needs should be a top priority in the mind of district decision makers but which often seems to come as an afterthought. This is especially highlighted by the fact that communication about safety plans have been widely shared with families throughout the summer, accompanied by multiple Hangout Hours [on HCAM-TV] with both the School Committee and superintendent with opportunities to ask questions. Hopkinton educators often get their information second hand through social media or by requesting meetings that we feel should have been offered long before our requests. The first town hall with teachers did not take place until August 5th. With many unanswered questions and contradictory answers, the vast majority of teachers left this meeting with a heightened sense of unease. ​The follow-up meeting that took place on August 12th ended with inflammatory comments made by Dr. Cavanaugh that gave teachers an even greater sense that safety for students and teachers was coming secondary to meeting the overwhelming requests parents have made for in-person instruction.

Data: ​The School Committee’s statement says, “Both teachers and administrators have said that an in-person education model is the best learning model for students, not only for academics but also for social/emotional wellness.” While the HTA statement from August 13th did acknowledge that the in-person instructional model can’t be replicated elsewhere, it was said in the hopes that HTA concerns would be addressed so that we could all have a safe and successful return to school. There are still outstanding questions to be answered which have only been complicated by the most recent and disturbing guidance from DESE which lessens the rules for contact tracing and quarantine protocols and which suggests that even if a district has deemed “remote” to be the safest option for students, that it would still be appropriate and fair for teachers to enter buildings and be surrounded by, in some cases, more than 100 colleagues. This demand is one that seems to reflect more of a distrust of teachers and a lack of confidence in their ability to work as professionals from a home office despite the fact that the majority of Corporate America has yet to return to the office and have been told, ‘If you can work from home, you should work from home,” in an effort to keep the virus at bay. It is astounding and disappointing that DESE or the district would think that teachers must be in a building to teach students who are at home. What all Hopkinton educators learned in the spring is that our computers became our classrooms, and within these new parameters, armed with creativity, an ever-growing technology skill set and an unrelenting desire to educate, these new classrooms could be incredibly effective.

I would like to end by reiterating that the HTA is not opposed to ​any one plan​ for Hopkinton’s school reopening. What we are asking for is to be given a safe environment for students and teachers to return to and for teachers to be granted the respect they deserve as professionals and the empathy they need as humans who are still making their way through an unprecedented time. If this can be done, HTA feels very confident that we can successfully continue with negotiations and return once again to the classrooms and to the students whose faces, albeit hidden by masks, we long to see again.

On behalf of the Hopkinton Teachers Association,

Becky Abate
President, HTA

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