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ConVal teachers union satisfied, Jaffrey-Rindge loses some teachers over COVID-19 procedure

  • Conant High School Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/2/2020 4:48:08 PM

The start of the school year is just around the corner for ConVal and Jaffrey-Rindge school districts, and representatives from those teachers’ unions are ready to speak on how they view their respective districts’ COVID-19 reopening plans, as well as the remaining uncertainties surrounding school reopening.

“The overwhelming message that I’ve gotten from teachers…[is] they’re looking forward to coming back,” ConVal Education Association co-chair of the negotiations committee Greg Leonard said. The ConVal Education Association perspective was a big part of the reopening planning process and members worked collaboratively with administrators to shape the eventual plan, Leonard said. “Other districts asked to borrow our plan, not just across New Hampshire, but across New England,” he said, crediting the comprehensiveness of the plan to the collaborative process shaping it. Leonard said he heard about instances where the district made special accommodations for teachers with specific hardships, such as one who has children at home learning remotely through another school district. The union is finalizing their memorandum of agreement and expects the document to be available to the public soon.

“With that said, there’s still a lot of questions. Some of those questions are just not going to be answered until we have students in front of us,” he said.

What kinds of questions? The first day of school on Sept. 8 is just a week short of six months since students and teachers were in school in person, Leonard said. “There’s some trepidation with that.” Additionally, there are major changes in the way instruction looks that could come with unforeseen complications, he said, as classes in the middle and high schools are proceeding with some students remote and others live, and half of the high school students will be home on any given week. “We don’t have any playbooks,” he said, but that he feels ConVal’s plan is strong in its methods for maintaining the health of staff and students.

Although the Jaffrey-Rindge teachers’ union has no overall disagreements with their district’s reopening framework, teachers are still waiting for clarifications on certain areas of the plan, JREA Acting President Mark Haley said.

Teachers are still looking for concrete answers on whether there’s adequate space in classrooms, staffing and available PPE, all components critical to executing the school’s final plan, Haley said.

“The JREA is concerned that even though we may finalize a good plan and we will be able to bargain a good agreement over the impact on teachers’ working conditions, the logistics of the plan may not be feasible due to supply chain issues, availability of qualified staff and substitutes, class sizes, and other unknowns,” he said.

The District is still impact bargaining with the JREA and couldn’t yet comment on specific concerns, Jaffrey-Rindge communications coordinator Nicholas Handy said, but said that all classrooms are set up to provide social distancing at six feet or more, there are tents for outdoor learning, and the district is working with the community to provide off-site learning spaces. The school is providing face masks and face shields for staff members as well as masks for students in need, he said, and the district has installed IWave air purification devices in all classroom and standalone air systems, which are meant to inactivate airborne mold, allergens, odors, and viruses. Touchless hand sanitation stations have also been installed, Handy said. 

“We have seen employees resign or retire because they were not given remote teaching positions that they requested for their own health and safety needs, or those for whom they are a caregiver. The district was either unwilling or unable to accommodate those requests, and we have lost those employees,” Haley said, and there was uncertainty whether more staff members would leave, further impacting the conditions for remaining staff members.  Jaffrey-Rindge reported four resignations and three retirements due to COVID-19 since March, Handy said.

Most elementary school teachers who requested a remote position received one, Haley said, but he didn’t know about anyone at the middle and high school being granted a remote assignment. “Specific circumstances of each teacher's request are always evaluated by administration,” Handy said, but ultimately, the learner’s needs are at the center of their decision making.

One Jaffrey-Rindge teacher who retired early due to COVID-19 was former JREA leader Shiela Nichols. “The in-person reopening plan the school board unanimously adopted unnecessarily risks the health and wellbeing of staff and students,” she wrote in a letter to colleagues she shared with the Ledger-Transcript. She said the decision to leave the district after 21 years was difficult, but ultimately the best one for her family. Nichols thanked her colleagues for their support. “Stand tall and know that you are the ones who are in the front line of education and the   ones who embrace the wellbeing of your students everyday,” she wrote.

Representatives from the WLC and Mascenic teachers unions could not be reached for comment by press time. 


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