[Scroll down and click on right for entire text.] The Representative Council for the Amherst Pelham Education Association (APEA) met on October 26, 2020, to discuss the request by the School Committees to reopen negotiations on the current MOA. After much discussion, and opportunities for Rep Council members and other members who attended the meeting to speak, the Council decided against reopening negotiations. Several compelling reasons for this decision emerged from the discussion with nearly 100 members on the call. One primary reason for the decision is that there is a section of the MOA that allows for ongoing discussion. The APEA has been diligent in its commitment to these ongoing discussions and requests that the School Committee use this process to address any new concerns.
The main priority of the APEA is to provide safe conditions for all who enter our schools and the standard for education which in turn support the needs of the children we teach and their families. The APEA remains committed to providing the service of high-quality education to our community while keeping our community safe, healthy, and whole. Educators are working harder than ever to re-create the learning opportunities they have honed over their long and valued careers. We urge that resource allocation continue to support educators and their students in providing this high quality education via remote instruction.
Much debate has occurred recently within the community now that we have exceeded our threshold metric for closure. Providing the details of the basis for the agreement between the School Committee and APEA regarding the closure metric seems necessary.
The metrics were arrived at mutually, by the School Committee and APEA. We all wanted to minimize the risk associated with putting people indoors together. We then agreed to keep the community safe by setting a closure metric that was low. The agreed-upon metric number also reflects our interest in maintaining health and safety in a school setting where mask wearing and ventilation systems are imperfect at removing COVID from aerosolized particles. When we are below the metric, the risk of contracting COVID with imperfect masks and ventilation is low. When we rise above the metric, the imperfect ability of masks and ventilation systems to protect students and staff create a higher risk environment, increasing the chances of someone in our community contracting COVID.
APEA members have indicated that the current Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) is not being followed, which is putting in-person students and staff at risk. We have numerous reports of unsafe conditions in our schools among those who were recently teaching students in-person.
Staff reported not having adequate PPE, including scrubs, masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.
Students were frequently observed with masks off, or not wearing them properly. Additionally, there is not an effective approach to supporting students to comply with mask protocols.
Students are frequently not following social distance protocols even with reminders and direction.
Some teachers were being asked to disinfect their own classrooms and not given wipes or disinfectant.
Response protocol is not followed for symptomatic students and students with close contacts to someone with suspected positive case or symptoms.
There were also reports that students and staff were being asked to use spaces within schools with untested ventilation systems, or that do not meet ASHRAE ventilation standards. Ventilation testing will not be complete until the end of November.
We are certainly willing to continue discussion on what can be done for families who feel like they need more support. All summer many educators who worked on negotiations were hoping to work with the district to develop a system to support families by addressing individual unmet needs. The APEA wanted this to be a priority factor using existing resources and creative problem solving to develop plans, ideas, and solutions for families. The School Committee was unwilling to discuss our ideas.
We want to end by stating that teachers ARE back at school. We may not be in the building but we are still teaching and pushing everyday for the education of our students, and the health and safety of our children, staff and community. It’s time to move forward on our common desire to support students safely during this pandemic so we can have the best outcomes for our shared children.
From the APEA Executive Board