READING - The School Committee last night may have sanctioned a hybrid reopening plan, but union officers representing local educators earlier this week continued to roundly criticize the proposed resumption of in-class learning next month.
Issuing a recent statement on Thursday, not long after Schools Superintendent Dr. John Doherty released his latest 62-page school reopening plan, representatives from the Reading Teachers Association (RTA) characterized the hybrid model as unnecessarily risking student and educator’s health.
“With other educators throughout our region, we have called for a phased-in start to the school year where students begin with a comprehensive remote learning experience and then transition to the hybrid model only when public health data shows that it can be done safely,” the RTA wrote.
Last night, the School Committee, which still needs to negotiate various changes to existing union contracts to permit a multitude of new working conditions, voted unanimously in favor of instituting a hybrid instruction model beginning on Sept. 15 (see related story on A1).
Proponents of that hybrid plan have acknowledged the partial resumption of in-person teaching is far from perfect. However, with some public health experts saying COVID-19 poses little risk to young children — who research shows learn better in classroom settings — Doherty and others contend that risks to staff members can be mitigated through mandatory mask orders and other COVID-19 prevention protocols.
The RTA this week firmly disagreed with those contentions and argued that the current hybrid model lacks sufficient information about the sufficiency of local school building’s ventilation systems to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pathogen.
Members also say the proposal unncesarily exposes music and art teachers to too many pupils — those specialists will float between multiple buildings. Meanwhile, WTA officials want answers about how many staff members are returning back to the classroom next fall, whether staff members will be allowed to take leave-of-absences, and how substiutue coverage will be guaranteed.
“People have asked, ‘If we don’t go back now, when will we go back?’ Our answer is when it’s safe,” RTA reps commented. “Until then, it is safer and less restrictive to begin with remote learning.”
The recent statement from the union, which represents roughly 400 classroom teachers and school nurses, believes a hybrid model should only be imposed under the following circumstances:
● When Covid-19 cases are declining in Massachusetts;
● When the rate of transmission is below 1%;
● When our buildings’ HVAC systems undergo evaluations that deem them safe;
● When Reading has an effective contact tracing protocol in place;
● When the community has access to rapid testing with timely results;
● When our schools have the staffing and resources to meet the needs of our students without
● and when the in-person experience for students isn’t so isolating or scary