Teachers See Red on School Re-Opening Plans

Red for Ed

Pelham%27s+own+Crimson+Tide%3A+Teachers+show+their+discontent+with+district+safety+policy+by+wearing+red.

Mr. Schliefer

Pelham’s own Crimson Tide: Teachers show their discontent with district safety policy by wearing red.

Kate Loughran, News Editor, Junior

As schools across the world attempt to reopen their doors in the Covid-19 era, the challenges that accompany this task have come into focus as openings begin. The backbone of our schools, the teachers, are expressing their concerns regarding reopening by participating in “Red for Ed”, a national movement in which teachers stand in solidarity with each other, and for public education. The reopening of the Pelham Public Schools has come with pushback from the Teachers Association in terms of the plans the district has provided, and the disregard they believe the district has shown in terms of the health and safety of teachers. To show their solidarity, teachers wore red shirts on the first day of class.

The teachers’ main concerns are mainly due to the lack of choice they face in comparison to the choice the students are getting in terms of the work environment they choose to put themselves in. They see the demands the district has made for them to physically be in school could compromise their health and put them at extreme risk for developing Covid-19.

Mr. Finegan, president of the Teachers Association, made it clear that their are three main reasons for the demonstration. First, they were responding to the lack of a phased opening that the school had originally put into place. The risky behavior of come students just nights before opening is cited as the cause for the change. Next,  teachers are concerned with the district’s “distance learning plan” policy, in which teachers will be mandated to continue to come into the classroom while students are isolated at home. These virtual days will occur in the event that there is an up-tick in Covid-19 cases or concern and there is a need to switch to distance learning. The idea is that teachers will then need to come back into a building and sit in empty classrooms that might have been exposed to the virus,and walk the hallways with the risk of spreading the virus and exposing others to it. There seems to be a focus on students’ well-being, while ignoring the risk to faculty and staff. The third concern is that the district has shown a full refusal of medical requests to teach at home.

Finegan said, “We have had less than 10 teachers who have  put in this accommodation to work from home, and every single teacher has been denied the accommodation.”

This includes faculty and staff with chronic or pre-existing conditions, as well as new mothers returning from maternity leave. Compared to New York City, where 21% of the teaching staff (or roughly 15,000 teachers) have been approved to work from home, this seems unbalanced and unfair.

According to Michael Elsen-Rooney’s  New York Daily News article of  September 25,  Danielle Filson, a spokesperson for the education department, said, “This will help to reduce the number of occupants in school buildings, minimize congestion on public transportation, and give principals the ability to make decisions that best fit their school communities.” If New York City recognizes the inherent danger of contagion, the Pelham Teachers Association wonders why our own district does not.

The Red for Ed day was supposed to take place on September 10, the first day back to school on the hybrid learning model. While many teachers took part on this day, they also repeated the demonstration by wearing red on the first day of hybrid learning. 

Despite this pushback from teachers, Finegan emphasized the fact that the Teachers Association and the district have a very good relationship, and that they have and will continue to work together on these issues along with others. The district has fulfilled all of the PPE requests of the teachers, and have begun to work with the Recreation Department to have a child care system for teachers’ children to bring to school when they are required to come to the building.

Superintendent Champ said, “With regard to the reopening we have been working in partnership with the Teachers’ Association throughout the summer and taking their feedback into account with regards to readiness on both health and safety and educational plans. While it is a challenging time for everyone, and they certainly have the right to express their perspective on this, we stand behind the District’s preparedness and the plans we have put in place, and believe that our faculty and staff will rise to meet every challenge as they are an outstanding group of educators who always put students first.”