School district substitutes

As TESD Plans to Reopen Schools, Will the Teachers Return to the Classroom or Is the Risk Too Great?

Next week, the community will learn the specifics of the reopening plan for the TESD schools. Scheduled for release the week of July 20 with school board vote to occur the following week, the public will have a short window to review and provide feedback on the proposed reopening plan.

In advance of the public release of the reopening plan, we learned that last week the District leadership held a meeting with a select group of parents. In my last blog post, some have taken issue with my interpretation of the meeting — by my calling it a “secret” meeting and attendees as “handpicked”.

For the record, I will stand on the words in my post, the meeting attendees were handpicked and individually invited; the criteria for selection unclear.  Because the administration and/or school board presented no notice of the reopening meeting, provided no public agenda and repeatedly asked attendees not to videotape and to keep information to private “is”, in my opinion, the hallmark of secrecy.

From a transparency and communication standpoint, wouldn’t it have made more sense for the District to videotape the parent reopening meeting and then provide the link on its website for all those interested?

Moving on … Coronavirus cases keep increasing at alarming rates across the country and this comes as our District is wrestling with “how” to reopen the schools. Making these decisions is not easy. There’s the issue of safety, and that’s complicated because students, teachers and parents all have different Covid-19 risk levels.  With the upcoming release of the District’s reopening plan, parents debate whether they send their children physically back to school or take the distance learning option.

Available medical research seems to indicate that students would be at lower risk than adults for serious health problems related to the coronavirus, leading to concern for the risk teachers would take returning to the classroom. Considering teacher safety (in addition to the students), especially those who are older, medically vulnerable or who may be afraid of putting a family member at risk must be another priority in school reopening discussion.

Did the District’s newly formed Pandemic Committee seek input from the teachers in drafting the reopening plan– were the teachers engaged in the process?  It is my understanding that two teachers were invited to the parent reopening meeting last week – unclear if they attended as TEEA (teachers union) representatives. Although I did not hear that these teachers participated in the reopening discussion, someone who attended the meeting did offer that other teaching staff (substitutes?) would be hired for the daily lunch period when schools reopen.

Has the District involved TEEA involved in the decision-making process for reopening? As preparation for the fall, was there online distance technology seminars held this summer for the teachers? In advance of the draft reopening plan announcement, did the administration schedule a special meeting for the teachers, similar as was held for the parents?

At the June school board meeting, the public learned that Dr. Chris Groppe was to head the TESD Pandemic Committee, part of the state required reopening process. Although the District’s announcement did not include the membership list of the committee, the additional eight members with their specific responsibilities, are as follows:

  • Jeanne Pocalycko, Personnel matters
  • Wendy Towle, Instructional plan development
  • Mike Szymendera, Technology implementation
  • Oscar Torres, Equity monitoring and liaison with families in need
  • Ellen Turk, School safety
  • Mark Cataldi, Liaison with principals and school board
  • Art McDonnell, Operations and facilities
  • Chris Connelly, Communications

We all know that reopening of schools is not simply a matter of turning a key. Will the District’s reopening plan next week include input from all stakeholders – the superintendent, administrators, Pandemic Committee, principals, teachers (and TEEA), school support staff (including TENIG), school board, parents, school nurses and psychologists and state health officials?

In closing, I saw the following posted on social media today – a thought-provoking list of questions as reopening plans develop with teachers returning to the classrooms. My understanding is the list was written by a teacher (and a parent) in Hawaii but is applicable everywhere.

  • If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19, are they required to quarantine for 2-3 weeks? Is their sick leave covered, paid?
  • If that teacher has 5 classes a day with 30 students each, do all 150 of those students need to then stay home and quarantine for 14 days?
  • Do all 150 of those students now have to get tested? Who pays for those tests? Are they happening at school? How are the parents being notified? Does everyone in each of those kids’ families need to get tested? Who pays for that?
  • What if someone who lives in the same house as a teacher tests positive? Does that teacher now need to take 14 days off of work to quarantine? Is that time off covered? Paid?
  • Where is the district going to find a substitute teacher who will work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students for substitute pay?
  • Substitutes teach in multiple schools. What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19? Do all the kids in each school now have to quarantine and get tested? Who is going to pay for that?
  • What if a student in your kid’s class tests positive? What if your kid tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine? Do we all get notified who is infected and when? Or because of HIPAA regulations are parents and teachers just going to get mysterious “may have been in contact” emails all year long?
  • What is this stress going to do to our teachers? How does it affect their health and well-being? How does it affect their ability to teach? How does it affect the quality of education they are able to provide? What is it going to do to our kids? What are the long-term effects of consistently being stressed out?
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