ANDOVER (CBS) – The Andover School Committee voted 5-0 to authorize the district’s legal counsel after many teachers refused to work inside the school building Monday, their first day of professional development. The school committee said approximately 45% of the Andover Education Association membership did not report to work in-person as directed.
“This was not a decision the School Committee took lightly,” said Chairman Shannon Scully. “We are well-positioned to enable in-person learning with the district’s hybrid learning plan to start the school year. It is our responsibility under Massachusetts law to notify the [Department of Labor Relations] of the union’s action.”
Teachers are due back for day two of professional development Tuesday.
Superintendent Sheldon Berman said Monday was a “missed opportunity” on the part of the union to see what precautions and care have been implemented for teachers and students.
The union decided teachers would not enter the building during an emergency vote last week, and instead worked outside under trees and at picnic tables. The school district opted for a hybrid learning plan for students because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re working, we’re intending on working a whole day outside remotely. We set up our own WiFi because they pushed us away from the buildings,” said Matthew Bach, AEA president, who is also a history teacher at the high school.
He said the staff is worried about the air quality inside the district’s schools.
“It is simply not safe at this time for students and staff to be working together in crowded settings inside these buildings,” said Bach, about the union’s vote.
The school committee believes the teacher’s refusal to enter buildings is a violation of Massachusetts General Laws and the districts’ legal counsel will petition the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations.
“I think the law is pretty clear that work stoppages in whole or in part are illegal in Massachusetts by public employees,” said Andover School Committee member Tracey Spruce.
Earlier on Monday, Andover Public Schools released a statement, saying the union’s actions showed “a disregard for our families.”
“The Andover Education Association might believe this is a ‘workplace safety action,’” the district said in its statement. “It is, in fact, considered an illegal work stoppage.”
Monday marked the first day of professional development for teachers before classes begin on September 16. Andover Public Schools said development sessions will continue Tuesday as scheduled.
“It is unfortunate that some our educators did not report to school buildings for their first day of work,” the school district’s statement said. “Our families overwhelmingly chose the hybrid model for their children to return to school this fall. The AEA’s actions appear to align more with the state’s union leadership than with the needs of our students, especially where the administration and school committee representatives have provided the AEA with reliable information that all of our school buildings are safe and ready to be occupied.”
Reaction from parents and people in the community about the protest is pretty mixed.
“I think it’s really important what the teachers are doing. I know some of the higher-ups in town aren’t really listening,” said Allison McCarron.
“I think safety concerns are one thing I think a whole list of demands is another and I’m not sure if this is truly about safety concerns anymore,” said parent Stephanie Sweet.