ANDOVER (CBS) – Andover teachers have voted for a remote start to the school year, despite the fact that the Andover School Committee is expecting them to report in person on August 31.
Instead, teachers said, on August 31, they will gather outside Andover High School, social distance and report to work remotely, the teachers union voted in an emergency meeting this week.
“It is simply not safe at this time for students and staff to be working together in crowded settings inside these buildings,” said Matthew Bach, president of the Andover Education Association (AEA). “Members have decided they will not risk the health and safety of students, staff, or the community by walking into buildings that for decades have been underfunded, understaffed, and poorly maintained while a global pandemic continues to affect Essex County, the state, and our country.”
The AEA and the school district have held five meetings to negotiate terms of their contracts to address issues related to the coronavirus. A sixth meeting is planned for Tuesday. Among other health and safety requirements, the AEA is seeking third-party documentation on the safety of school buildings.
“During negotiations, the AEA leadership has expressed a preference for teaching from home, but that decision does not fall to the Union,” the school committee said in a statement.
Andover currently is a low-risk town, with 2.2 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest state numbers.
The Andover School District opted for a hybrid start to the school year with remote learning available for students who did not come to school. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the plan. Members of the AEA estimate the 20% of Andover families will opt to start the year remotely.
“The district’s plan is compliant with DESE’s requirements. In fact, we are confident that Andover exceeds these requirements, including in the areas of health and safety. Andover is well-positioned to enable in-person learning with the district’s hybrid learning plan to start the new year,” the school committee said.
Julian DiGloria, a Wood Hill history teacher and chair of the AEA Bargaining Team, asked, “If the School Committee has detailed, transparent, and comprehensive information that proves in-person learning can be conducted safely, then why has there not been a concerted effort to provide it to the community? Why are they not prioritizing the best, safest possible educational environment for our students?”
Andover firefighter Eric Teichert said that Andover’s firefighters support the concerns expressed by teachers. He said if firefighters receive a call to a school about a suspected case of coronavirus, they will respond in Tyvek suits and plastic face shields.
“That’s what our protocols require. Think about those optics,” he said.
What the school committee is calling “an illegal work stoppage” would be addressed “through the proper channels,” it said.
AEA members include instructional assistants, guidance counselors, secretaries, occupational and physical therapists, social workers, school psychologists, nurses, and classroom teachers.