COMMENTARY: Students and Teachers Deserve to be Safe, Says Union President

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Pertinent to our right to collectively bargain under Massachusetts General law Section 150E, the formal request to bargain all Covid-19 related changes was sent by the Westford Education Association to Westford Public Schools Superintendent Everett V. Olsen on June 25. That was more than two weeks ago and still no session has been scheduled by WPS Administration.

I would like to express our disappointment that the following notice was sent out to parents (but not teachers) by the WPS with the items presented as decided and final (“Some of the modifications for the full return in the fall are as follows”) before any bargaining session has even taken place.

What exact metrics did the superintendent’s feasibility study specifically use? Was it 3 feet exactly? 4 feet? 6 feet? Can the superintendent please release the full findings of his Feasibility Study to the public?

Do all our students fit in our classroom allowing 6 feet of distancing?

Most concerning perhaps is the unilateral decision that a full return is the safest and in the best interest of the students and staff of the WPS. Our staff survey has been taken by 276 WEA members as of today and 80 percent of those WPS staff surveyed do not support a full return to school on the currently scheduled first day. Additionally, 80 percent of the staff surveyed so far stated they don’t feel comfortable with desks spaced only 3 feet apart indoors with many of our classrooms so poorly ventilated.

It has been my hope that all parties could work collaboratively to ensure an as smooth as possible return to school for staff and students. The WEA stands by its responsibility to advocate for our members and ultimately our students. Our member survey will be made available publicly. The results from the WPS parent survey from three weeks ago have still not been made public.

This week, President Trump’s administration began dictating ultimatums to the states, ordering the schools fully open and threatening the funds our schools so desperately need punitively withheld for non-compliance. Seeing this same type of action, key decisions being reached without full consultation with all stakeholders, locally is equally troubling.

Both staff and students alike deserve a teaching and learning environment where all feel valued, heard, and safe. –Mike Colson, president, Westford Education Association.