Superintendent Cavanaugh: Negotiations with teachers ‘feels really positive’

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Hopkinton Public Schools superintendent Carol Cavanaugh, during an appearance on Tuesday’s Hopkinton Hangout Hour on HCAM, acknowledged that time is running out to finalize an agreement with teachers, who are scheduled to return to their buildings next Monday to prepare for school reopening on Sept. 16.

“We negotiated yesterday,” Cavanaugh said. “We have a two-hour session I think blocked off for tomorrow, and then another two-hour session blocked off for Friday. So we are really in that kind of scrambling to the end place. Then what has to happen after [an agreement] is the [Hopkinton Teachers Association] would have to ratify it and the School Committee would have to vote on it.”

Recent public statements from the HTA appear to indicate that a divide still exists, but Cavanaugh said she is optimistic that the sides are close to a deal.

“At least for me, when we are negotiating, it feels really positive,” she said. “I think that we are in a place now where we’re just looking at a couple of last items. Granted, they are big items, and I think that we’re going to probably have to meet in the middle on those ones. Those are the ones that they started out polarizing and we resolved all of those tiny little things that were somewhere in the middle, and now we’re faced with where are we with those last couple of items.

“I will say that our most recent negotiation session went well. We’ve got one tomorrow, we’ve got one Friday. I want parents to feel like there’s a good possibility that we’re going to be ready to open our doors to students on September 16th.”

One issue that has arisen is that some teachers with health concerns that are not covered by Americans with Disability Act (ADA) guidelines are expected to teach their online classes from the school rather than their homes.

Cavanaugh said those teachers will have their own space within the school, and there will be more technology — and technological assistance should something go wrong — available to them inside the building.

She also said it’s simply a better look to have the teachers in the classroom.

“When you are in the classroom you’ve got that great big whiteboard there that you can stand in front of, and then it appears to kids that are sitting at home that you’re in school,” she said, adding, “There’s kind of a mood that’s conveyed if I’m standing in my classroom delivering instruction as opposed to on my couch.”

Schools will be monitoring students’ movements in order to be able to trace individuals who might test positive for COVID and limit the spread. One example Cavanaugh discussed is at the high school, where all the desks set up in the cafeteria and the athletic center for lunch have QR codes. When a student sits down to eat they will use their phone to scan the QR code and then input their name and desk number. If a student tests positive for COVID the school will be able to determine which students sat nearby. The data will be retained for two weeks, Cavanaugh said.

While there still are some preparations to be finalized, Cavanaugh said the schools are ready to be inhabited by teachers, staff and students, and she’s proud of how quickly it came together.

“Amazingly, I think, if you walked into Hopkinton High School today you’d walk into a building where you would look and think, ‘Wow, they are ready to open COVID style,’ ” she said.

Cavanaugh also noted that on Sept. 2 the Hopkinton High School Diversity Club is organizing an event called Let’s Chalk About Change, in which community members are encouraged to write in chalk “messages of inclusion, unity and social justice” on driveways or sidewalks. Photos emailed to hhsdiversityclub@hillers.org might be included in a video or shared on social media.

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