READING – At the most recent Reading School Committee meeting members of the Reading Teachers Association (RTA) followed up the email campaign for remote learning only (August 20 meeting) with some 40 emails (at the 8/27 meeting) on that subject but more specifically voicing opposition to the Reading school administration plan to have remote learning originate from the teachers’ classrooms instead of their homes or other locations.

The campaign came despite the obvious educational advantages of teachers being in school with their principals and peers even though they would be in classes without students and the single digit instances of COVID-19 in Reading, according to recent Board of Health figures.

The School Committee wrestled with the public comment section of the meeting, and how to make the letters public. School Board chair Chuck Robinson suggested putting all the letters in their public packet for the next meeting saying they would be there until midnight if they read aloud all of the 40 plus emails.

Committee member Erin Gaffen objected, asserting they should read all the letters from the teachers and Tom Wise felt that parent letters should then also be read. Other ideas included reading a few in the order in which they were received or just reading a select number of letters, but then they couldn’t agree on a plan on how to select which letters to read.

The final hour of the meeting was devoted to the letters as the board eventually took the position of selecting to read one letter from teachers per school alternating with letters from parents.

Teachers opposed the remote learning plan based at their schools for potential health reasons for themselves or their families and also due to their own childcare issues and scheduling. However the remote learning originating from schools is also the plan at other hybrid learning districts.

Letters from parents ranged from urging full-time return to class, to support for teachers. However other letters that were read expressed disappointment with the teachers for not considering themselves to be essential workers and not willing to teach from school or in the school and had expected more support for the students from the teachers. Other letters supported teachers staying home during remote learning and others felt teachers should conduct their remote lessons from their classrooms.

Under the latest Reading hybrid plan, remote learning would start for grades 1-12 on September 15, and in school learning would be phased in during October and early November based on the number of teachers and para educators opting out from in school hybrid teaching.

At the time of the meeting, 97 teachers and para educators had filed for the inquiry phase for possible acceptance for a leave of absence. Hiring would begin for these positions if and when leaves of absence were approved. Factors in the delay of the in school hybrid learning also include the arrival of additional technology, the arrival of Merv 13 HVAC air filters due in late September or early October, medical or maternity leaves, and resignations which would have to be filled.

Accept two policies

At the August 27th meeting the School Committee voted a policy on masks under which students must wear an approved face covering while in school except during mask breaks, eating or drinking, during physical education with 10n ft. distancing or while outside with proper distancing. Principals will deal with families of students who refuse to wear a mask to see if they qualify for an exemption. If they continue not to wear a mask they will be removed from the building and in person learning. Neck gaiters, bandanas and knit masks are not approved.

The School Committee also accepted a policy allowing the Superintendent to institute remote learning in the case of an emergency, then as soon as possible bring the matter to the School Committee.

A 90 minute executive session was held prior to the start of the public meeting at for the purpose of discussing collective bargaining agreements.

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