Capital Region Teachers Call for Delaying In-Person Learning

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Over a dozen teacher union leaders across the Capital Region called on local school districts to delay "in person" instruction.

The Union Leaders cited insufficient state and federal resources that the Union Leaders say, would have a major negative impact on school reopening plans. The union leaders of 16 districts, including Schenectady, Shenendehowa, Niskayuna, Schalmont, Scotia- Glenville and others, signed an open letter saying that schools cannot fulfill careful health precautions, laid out in reopening plans, without more federal and state resources.

The Teacher leaders say the schools should open next month, but with students and educators starting the year "virtually" and then go to "in person" learning in October, if it is "safe and appropriate."

As of Monday, the infection rate in New York is 0.94% and 1.4% in the Capital Region.

Here's the complete letter:

Dear Fellow Community Member,

We are addressing this letter to all involved in the education community: our members, our students, their families, our school leaders, our boards of education, and the rest of the community at large.

We are union leaders of teachers and school staff but we are more than that. We are teachers, social workers, nurses, bus drivers, and aides. We are moms and dads, daughters and sons, grandchildren and grandparents, and caregivers of loved ones in high-risk groups. We are your neighbors and your community members. 

We’ve come together to tell you instruction must resume in September but we need more time before we transition to in-person learning. We are concerned with reentering school buildings at this time for in-person learning because we know that regardless of how well articulated our SED submitted Reopening Plans are, the resources we need are not in place. The health and safety protocols that our school leadership teams are feverishly working to develop cannot be fully implemented without additional support from the federal and/or state government. For many of our students, these protocols will impact and forever alter the way they see school, and they will have difficulty complying with them simply because kids will be kids. Many of our buildings are old and the only adequate ventilation will be some open windows; many school buildings are in need of repair and hot water is not always a given; and providing safe hygiene opportunities is unrealistic. We are concerned because while seeing our students in-person is what we desire most, they won’t see us smile behind our masks and face shields. Developmentally, many of them will not be able to quite understand that. For all the reasons above, we believe instruction should resume virtually in September and transition in early October to in-person learning if deemed safe and appropriate given the circumstances that exist at that time.

We are resourceful out of necessity and from teaching generations of students without adequate school materials and resources. Our experience enables us to create rich, pedagogically strong learning opportunities for your children and we will strive to deliver instruction in whatever manner our students need so that we can watch them learn and grow. In-person learning is always better, but once able to safely transition to in-person learning we will meet our students where they are academically and developmentally, adjusting instruction as needed so they further grow and thrive. That’s what we do, but right now their health and safety can’t be guaranteed within the halls of our schools.

To ensure in-person instruction begins safely, every school district should not just mitigate risk but create the safest learning environment possible by putting into place the following measures:

·HVAC Systems must be upgraded to a minimum of MERV-13 filtration or, where these systems don’t exist, portable units with HEPA filtration must be available for indoor spaces.

·COVID testing to monitor and isolate asymptomatic or suspected symptomatic spread of the virus must be in place with accurate, reliable results within 24 hours instead of what now takes well over one week in the Capital District.

·Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and health monitoring equipment fully stocked in our buildings including face masks, shields, thermometers, polycarbonate sneeze guards, disinfectants, and individual student supplies to prevent shared materials which spread the virus.

·Substitutes to replace staff members that become symptomatic and cannot report to work consistent with the CDC required best practice to prevent the spread of COVID.

·A 100% at home virtual option for children and staff who are medically at higher risk for severe symptoms as result of contracting COVID.

·Detailed plans that identify a school’s response to a potential COVID incident including a mandatory 14 day closure period with an immediate shift to an at home, full virtual learning model upon identification of a positive COVID individual. 

The work we do is vital but it can be provided temporarily on a remote virtual basis. We will do it better each day, and school leadership can take the time needed to put necessary health and safety standards in place so we can keep everyone safe as we transition to in-person learning. Here’s the good news: when we reenter our buildings, thousands of teachers and other school personnel throughout the Capital District will enthusiastically welcome our students in-person. We miss them very much and we’re grieving over all that’s been robbed of them! Meanwhile, we’ll be fine-tuning our Bitmoji classrooms, writing lesson plans for our face-to-face meets, and spending an enormous amount of time engaging in any professional development learning opportunities we can get our hands on to engage our students virtually.

With hope for the future and love for your children,

Laura Franz, Albany Public School Teachers Association, ED10 Director

Amsterdam Teachers Association

Ann Marie Murphy & Patricia Prime, Canajoharie United School Employees

Scott Ciarlone, Cohoes Teachers' Association

Christopher Danapilis, Duanesburg Teachers’ Association

Lisa Davidson, Granville Teachers Association

John Berj Nevins, Greenwich Teachers' Association

Mary Eads, Niskayuna Teachers’ Association

Wendy Sweet, Northville Teachers' Association

Timothy Barnes, Oppenheim-Ephratah St.Johnsville Association of Professionals

Matthew J. Miller, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Teachers Association

Mary Beth Flatley, Schalmont Teachers’ Association

Juliet Benaquisto, Schenectady Federation of Teachers, ED12 Director

Sarah Hoffmann, Scotia- Glenville Teachers’ Association

Heidi Stinebrickner, Shenendehowa Teachers Association

Elizabeth Willson, Troy Teachers Association

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