UPDATE: SINCE THE APEA CALLED FOR MORE TRANSPARENCY FROM THE DISTRICT ON SAFETY MEASURES DURING THE RETURN TO BUILDINGS, THE APEA AND DISTRICT HAVE BEEN WORKING TOGETHER ON CLEAR PROTOCOLS THAT ALIGN WITH CURRENT SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AND PREVIOUS AGREEMENTS BETWEEN THE TWO PARTIES. THE APEA VALUES THE COLLABORATION WITH THE DISTRICT.
APEA Urges Transparency from District on Safety Measures
The APEA has asked the district for months to give details on the agreed-upon safety protocols that will protect students, their families and staff. This week, in anticipation of elementary students returning to buildings in early April, district leaders informed staff at the elementary schools of health and safety guidelines. Many of these go against the agreed-upon safety measures between the School Committee and the APEA. The School Committee has continued to state that these agreed-upon safety measures will be followed. However, the safety guidelines given to staff are very different. The APEA has significant concerns about the health and safety measures presented to elementary staff, and feels the district has not communicated these changes to the wider community in a transparent way. We need safe and clear protocols in order to keep our students, staff, and community healthy as we return to in-person learning in the coming month.
A major concern is that families may not be notified if there is a positive COVID case in the building, unless their child is considered to have been in close contact with the individual who tested positive. Close contact will be determined by nursing staff who are not in the classroom, and based on student reporting. Staff who are consistently with the student and have observed student contacts will not be consulted, and may not even be informed that there is a case in their classroom. The district-APEA agreement stated that “all staff and student parent(s)/guardian(s) of a school will be told if any student or staff have had a positive test result.” APEA members questioned why the district informs families of lice and strep throat in a classroom, but not COVID.
Other areas of concern included:
- Elementary children will be allowed to be outside with no mask, if they are spaced six feet away. Children from different classes will be mixing at recess. It will be challenging to monitor and maintain that six feet distance, especially at recess, and if students are unmasked, may pose risk.
- The abandonment of “pooled testing.” Pooled testing is a way to test students and staff in a cohort quickly and in a cost-effective way. This option became available in early 2021 and was often cited by both the APEA and district as one more positive tool to prevent community spread.
- Class materials such as scissors or markers can be shared, and will be sanitized only at the end of the school day.
- Allowing small groups of students and staff in rooms with no windows.
- Allowing masks to come off in classrooms.
We have offered to collaborate with the district to revise the health and safety guidelines recently presented to align with the strong safety protocols agreed upon, and that we have been following thus far. The APEA will be working with the district early next week to work on these issues.
The APEA realizes that many families are eager to have their children return to in-person learning. APEA members miss seeing their students in person and have been working for a year to advocate for and develop safe learning conditions. The APEA wants families to have full understanding of what the return to in-person will look like, safety-wise. The APEA urges community members to ask questions of district leadership and their elected School Committee members. The next School Committee meeting is Tuesday, March 30.