Andover Teachers Voice Concerns Ahead Of Return To School

ANDOVER, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — The Andover Educators Association released a statement Wednesday expressing concern ahead of the school district's planned hybrid return for the fall semester.

According to the statement from the largest labor union in Andover, educators and staff will be welcoming more than 5,000 students back to Andover Public Schools on Thursday, but they would be doing so "under duress."

"We have serious concerns about the health, safety and well-being of the entire APS community, including students, teachers, and staff," the statement said. "Additionally, after ten days of preparation, we feel that there are a lack of clarity and still too many unanswered questions about curriculum and safety policy, prohibiting us from providing effective instruction to our students."

For example, the AEA said it still does not have the independent HVAC report that was originally due on September 4th.

"As of Sept 14, two buildings have as yet to be inspected, hindering our town’s ability to understand the true state of our school buildings," members said. "While we are assured that these systems meet current ASHRAE standards, some of those standards were developed before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19. In fact, according to the most recent update to the APS website, three buildings can only use MERV 8 air filters. The CDC recommends a minimum of higher quality MERV 13 filters."

In terms of curriculum and instruction, the AEA said there have been "significant delays" in providing teachers with schedules and class lists, impeding their ability to plan for and provide the most effective lessons possible.

"Six of our ten planning days included mandated professional development for training on our new information management system (Schoology) and policy reviews," the statement said. "Consequently, we have had limited time to review specialized learning plans for individual students, to ask questions about how to best address special education needs in a hybrid environment, and to develop systems for lessons and assessments that include both in person and remote learners.

"We are also concerned about the way mandated mask breaks will take away from time on learning and how to maintain social distancing as students move through hallways," it continued. "Also, we are not sure about how to safely share materials with our students."

The AEA said its members will welcome students back "with warmth and enthusiasm," but that they will be worrying about those students from the moment they step inside the schools.

"It is important to note that teachers and staff have been ready to help find answers to these challenges since March, but we have not been included in the reopening process in any meaningful way," the AEA said. "We are ready to contribute the minute we have a legitimate seat at the table. While we greatly appreciate that school building administrators have worked tirelessly to try to make this as smooth and safe a transition as possible, there is still just too much to be done. We appreciate all of their efforts, but it just isn’t enough when the stakes are so high that they affect all of our lives."

The AEA's statement, which comes one day before Andover students are due to return to classrooms, is the latest in the ongoing disagreement between educators and the state over how best to teach students amid the pandemic.

Last week, the state Labor Relations Board ruled that Andover teachers had held an illegal strike when they refused to enter a school building for training, and instead worked from a parking lot.

Read More: MTA Responds After Labor Board Rules Andover Teachers Held Illegal Strike

President of the Massachusetts Teachers' Association Merry Najimy said the Andover educators' refusal to enter the buildings was not a strike; all they wanted was information on the condition of their school buildings.

"The educators showed up in the parking lot with their laptops, they were connected online, they did their work, in some schools the Principle came out to the school yard where they conducted their faculty meeting," she said. "That's work. That's not a strike."

According to the final plan submitted by Andover Public Schools to the Department of Education, all students will begin the 2020-21 school year in a hybrid model.

"Approximately 50 percent of a class will attend school in-person, while the other 50 percent will learn online," the plan said. "Students in-person and online will utilize a learning management system to engage in blended learning across settings. A remote academy will also be offered for families who are seeking full-time, online instruction for their children."

Andover Superintendent Shelley Berman said the district's plan entails students attending in-class instruction in two small groups or cohorts, with the days at home focused on both synchronous and asynchronous remote learning.

"Cohort A will attend the hybrid learning model in-person on Monday and Tuesday, while cohort B will attend the hybrid learning model in-person on Thursday and Friday," Berman told the APS community in early August. "Across the district, all students will receive instruction remotely on Wednesdays. This will also allow for a thorough cleaning of all our school buildings."

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