ANDOVER, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — Members of the Andover Educators Association voted this week to "only work remotely" for the start of the fall semester, despite the school district's directions for them to return in-person on Monday.
In early August, the Andover School Committee approved submission of the district's 2020-21 school year reopening plan, and voted to begin the semester offering a Hybrid model for all students, and a Remote Academy for students who require or choose to learn remotely.
President of the AEA Matthew Bach said at an emergency meeting this week, Andover's educators voted overwhelmingly to take action "in response to the Superintendent and School Committee’s lack of good-faith bargaining over how to maintain the health and safety of educators and students in the reopening of schools."
Members of the AEA include instructional assistants, guidance counselors, secretaries, occupational and physical therapists, social workers, school psychologists, nurses, and classroom teachers.
Bach said the members voted to begin the school year by only working remotely "while planning continues for a phased-in, safe return to in-person learning based on agreed upon community health guidelines."
"It is simply not safe at this time for students and staff to be working together in crowded settings inside these buildings,” Bach said. "Members have decided they will not risk the health and safety of students, staff, or the community by walking into buildings that for decades have been underfunded, understaffed, and poorly maintained while a global pandemic continues to affect Essex County, the state, and our country."
Among other health and safety requirements, the AEA is seeking third-party documentation on the safety of school buildings.
"As required by law, the district and the AEA are negotiating the terms over changing working conditions presented by the pandemic," Bach said. "While educators sought a fully public bargaining process, the district agreed only to bargain behind closed doors."
To ensure the safety of all members of the community during the COVID pandemic, Andover’s educators said they will be engaging in a “workplace safety action.” Although they usually spend their first day of school in meetings at Andover High School, AEA members said they will instead gather outside, maintain physical distancing, and report for work remotely.
Shortly after the AEA's decision was announced, Andover Public Schools responded, saying it was aware of educators across Massachusetts opposing return to school plans amid the pandemic, "specifically any plan that calls for a return to in- person work."
Chairperson of the Andover School Committee Shannon Scully said the Committee, all district administrators, and the Return to School Task Force had spent "thousands of hours and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars" planning for the 2020-21 school year "with health and safety of our students and staff as a top priority."
"The district’s plan is compliant with DESE’s requirements," Scully said. "In fact, we are confident that Andover exceeds these requirements, including in the areas of health and safety. Andover is well positioned to enable in-person learning with the district’s hybrid learning plan to start the new year."
Scully said negotiations between the AEA and the ASC are ongoing, with five conducted so far and a sixth session planned for Tuesday.
"During negotiations, the AEA leadership has expressed a preference for teaching from home, but that decision does not fall to the Union," Scully said. "Educators have been directed to begin their school year in-person on Monday, August 31. We continue to expect that they will. If the Union instead chooses to engage in an illegal work stoppage, we are prepared to address that through the proper channels."
(Photo: Getty Images)