Teachers ‘disappointed’ with district but ‘will be in classrooms on Wednesday’

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The question of whether to livestream some live classes is holding up an agreement between the Hopkinton Teachers Association and the school district for the upcoming school year, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh told the School Committee at its meeting Monday night.

Two days before school is scheduled to start, committee members have made their “last best offer to the Hopkinton Teachers Association,” committee chair Amanda Fargiano said in a statement read at the meeting and later issued via press release.

The teachers association membership last week did not support a proposal that had been tentatively endorsed Sept. 4 by association leadership.

The rejection was “in large part because the agreement included a plan to livestream a small group of classes to 145 general education high school students who elected for remote learning” as well as some remote special education students, the School Committee statement said.

Livestreaming would be a good option in certain situations, Cavanaugh said. As students picked their schedules, administrators realized that there were courses, including AP classes, that “were not replicated” by any online company, Cavanaugh said. “What if removing this AP course from a student’s transcript would impact college admissions?” she asked, or if the subject is a particular passion for the student. So the district determined that some remote students will join live classes at a school via teleconference.

HTA president Becky Abate said it is not reasonable to expect teachers to instruct students who are physically present in the classroom as well as additional students teleconferencing, and it raises privacy concerns having a camera in a classroom full of students.

“It creates a situation in which teachers must divide their attention between students in the room and those on their computer,” Abate said. “It does not allow those students at home to engage really with the students who are in the classroom and makes it hard for the teacher to see or know what the kids at home are doing. It is absolutely not a preferred method of teaching.

“It differs from a Zoom class in which teachers have changed their method of instruction delivery into one that is tailored to an online environment and in which all students are connected through the same platform. It is a completely different set of techniques that a teacher would use for a Zoom class and true ‘synchronous remote’ instruction than from what they would use when in a classroom with students in front of them. To combine these two teaching settings and skills is very challenging for a teacher, and does not provide a student with the instruction or engagement they need. I know that School Committee spoke a lot tonight about the need for students at home to engage with their classmates, but this will not give them that experience.

“We acknowledge that this pandemic has created many problems to be solved, however HTA is disappointed that the district is choosing a solution that so poorly addresses student needs and one which Dr. Cavanaugh herself publicly said at the June 30th School Committee meeting puts teachers in a very vulnerable position — one that she as a teacher would not want to be in.

“Additionally, it was referenced that the district is asking teachers to livestream a very small group of classes. This is untrue. While the number of students may be small, there are over 30 classes at the high school alone that would be livestreamed. Including those for special education district-wide [it] puts the number at something closer to 60 classes across all schools.”

Committee member Lya Batlle-Rafferty acknowledged that livestreaming wouldn’t be perfect but suggested the district try it out. “If it turns out to be disruptive and not helpful to the students … then we’ll discuss it,” she said. “We’re just trying to start at the best point we can.”

“It’s sad, in a pandemic, that we’re having a standoff” on the issue, committee member Meg Tyler said. “The emotional connection is so much more than the imperfections that technology allows.”

She also expressed the committee’s support for Hopkinton teachers. “We really love our teachers, we really love our students,” she said. “I feel grief-stricken that there might be a perception that we don’t care deeply for our teachers.”

Abate said teachers did not feel the support from the committee.

“We regret that tonight’s School Committee meeting only presented their side of the issue and that they seemed to suggest Hopkinton teachers don’t care very much for their students and their learning,” she said in a statement after the meeting ended. “It is exactly for those reasons that we are deeply concerned about bringing cameras into our classrooms.”

Abate aded that she wished “the district had done better needs assessments from the start and explored other creative scheduling approaches taken by other top districts.”

Some community members had questions about whether the start of school will be impacted by the disagreement. Cavanaugh said she is hopeful that “the start of school on Wednesday will be magical.”

“I’m hoping it is, despite the craziness of the pandemic, a wonderful first day for our students,” she said. After months out of the building, she said she hopes that “just coming through the door will be a joy.”

Abate expressed a similar sentiment. “Hopkinton’s teachers will be in classrooms on Wednesday ready to welcome students no matter what happens because we are professionals and we love our students,” she said in her statement. “We can’t wait to see our kids, whether it is in our physical classrooms or in our Zoom classrooms.”

Another special School Committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. for a possible approval of a new memorandum of agreement.

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