July 30, 2020
I am writing with an update on our planning process for the start of a new school year in Burlington. We are tentatively scheduled to resume student learning on September 10 or September 14—depending on your child’s age/grade.
Our planning process continues to be guided by a vigilant monitoring of public health data in Massachusetts, and we are encouraged that indicators about the virus continue to move in the right direction. The Commonwealth’s careful and disciplined approach has enabled our state gradually to begin reopening, in part because of strong compliance with health and safety precautions. The question now on all of our minds is how and when we apply those lessons learned to begin safely reopening our public schools.
As you have heard, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has directed districts to submit a preliminary plan by July 31, 2020 that addresses the feasibility of three options for serving students at the start of the school year: a full return to daily, in-person attendance; a hybrid plan combining in-school learning and remote learning; and a 100% remote learning program. Each district’s final plan, approved by the School Committee, is due to DESE August 10. We are asking for an extension to August 14. Given the significant changes these plans will require in the way schools operate, we have begun discussions with all employee unions impacted: teachers, paraprofessionals, and service associations. We are on a very tight timeline.
We know that under normal circumstances, students would be best served in schools every day, interacting with their peers and engaged in live classroom learning. While our educators and families worked incredibly hard last spring to implement remote learning, we know that approach presented enormous challenges, did not reach all students (particularly those with the greatest needs), and is not an adequate substitute for in-person learning. When out of school, our students also lack access to all of the academic, mental, and physical supports that help ensure their social-emotional well-being, particularly in navigating the effects of trauma during these tremendously challenging times. Therefore, I believe our families and students deserve more than a fully remote learning plan.
In order to adhere to the school re-opening guidance provided by DESE, consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Pediatric Association, we also do not believe we can safely meet physical distancing requirements with all students and staff in the buildings at the same time at all grade levels. However, we believe we can make significant changes to make a partial return to in-person learning both safe and successful.
This approach will require strategies to ensure physical distancing, as well as a series of other critical health and safety measures, including wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, screening regularly for symptoms of illness, and staying home from school when sick, among others. Our planning process includes a comprehensive set of strategies and investments to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus.
As a result, we will continue our discussions with all impacted unions for hybrid learning plans or hybrid school days, which would bring the students back into school buildings for in-person instruction in smaller, socially distanced groups on a rotating basis, combined with a robust remote learning program (or afternoon activity for elementary students) on the days students are not scheduled to be physically in school.
These plans also enable us to bring a subset of students in greatest need of in-person instruction and support, particularly students with disabilities and English language needs, back to school everyday—in small, distanced settings with all other precautions in place.
We will be distributing draft schedules next week ahead of our next discussions with the impacted unions because I understand that family planning is as challenging as school planning and that you need as much lead time as possible to plan.
We recognize that the circumstances of every family and staff member are different, and that no plan will satisfy everyone in our community. But rest assured that we are working diligently to explore every option available to us, that we remain guided by the science to keep our students and staff safe and healthy, and that we will be prepared to make adjustments along the way if the public health conditions or other variables change over time.
As we move closer to a final plan, we welcome input and feedback from all of our stakeholders. We invite you to share your questions, comments, and ideas to help inform and strengthen our plans (email firstname.lastname@example.org). We have established a District Working Team for feedback and to assist with communication.
I understand that the State Teachers’ Union (MTA) is taking a strong position against having students and teachers return to in-person learning. The demonstrations that will be happening in the coming days do not reflect all individual teachers. The majority of Burlington teachers with whom I have spoken want to return to their classrooms and their students, but, like all of us, they have safety concerns. Most questions posed by the union were a part of our planning already (see below). Please know that conversations with our local teachers’ union are ongoing and we will work together to minimize risks so that students and teachers can return to school as safely as possible.
We will keep you informed about our progress in developing a final plan and in our discussions with the unions. We will continue to post updates on our website, social media, and weekly BCAT shows. I am confident that we can prioritize both safety and learning as we prepare for the start of a successful school year.
Thank you for your patience and cooperation in these difficult times.
Eric M. Conti
As mentioned above this letter is from our teachers’ union and these are some of their concerns for the upcoming school year. We are in the process of providing this information.
Date: July 27, 2020
To: Eric Conti, Superintendent
From: Diana Marcus, BEA President
Reason: MGL ch. 150E Request for Information and Demand to Bargain
We are all concerned about the health and safety of the staff, the students and the community relative to the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, the Association is hereby using collective bargaining law as a vehicle to discuss issues and decisions that will impact the employees we represent. Pursuant to the provisions of Mass. Gen. Law ch. 150E the Association is issuing a request for information on employee’s hours, wages and other terms and conditions of employment relative to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the Association requests to bargain over all such issues.
MGL 150E Information Gathering The information request is organized using a Hierarchy of Controls model. The information request includes questions about how people will be protected using administrative controls (changing the way people work), engineering controls (isolating people from the hazard), and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE devices to protect people).
The following is a list of information requests:
Provide any and all COVID-19 safety protocols and policies affecting staff, the students and the public, including but not limited to the Emergency Operation Plan (EOP). If available, provide the Infectious Disease and Emergency Response Plan for COVID-19, also include any COVID-19 Risk Assessment. If applicable provide this information by building. What federal, state or local guidance documents were used to create these plans? How will this information get disseminated to staff and students?
What CDC community transmission phase does the (district or campus) consider itself falling into?. Provide the last four (4) weeks of transmission data in the community to support this position. Include the time frame. Also provide the source of that information.
Who is your local Department of Public Health (DPH) contact person for the development of the EOP and/or other COVID-19 safety protocols? Please provide the DPH contact information. Provide the documents shared with the local Health Department officials. When do you plan to meet next with the local health official? Do you consider these meetings open?
Provide information on what testing protocols are planned. How will testing interface with surveillance, contact tracing, and isolation of those suspected of infection and individuals quarantined? Will any employee or student who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 be tested
for an active infection? When will testing is required, will testing be provided upon request and free of charge? What is the policy on serological testing? Will serological testing be made available and how? If and when it becomes available, provide any protocols for vaccinating.
What contact tracing protocols are planned by the institution or state agency? How will that information be communicated to staff? Who will provide the contact tracing services? Is the employer interested in training in-house contact tracers and rapid response resource coordinators? Provide information on COVID-19 tracing resources, techniques, and technologies.
Describe any social distancing protocols, including but not limited to increasing distance between desks, tables, in bathrooms, elevators, auditoriums, hallways, sidewalks or other spaces. Include any plans for double sessions, staggered start times, working from home, remote learning or similar administrative controls. When will social distancing be required?
What criterion will be used for the closing buildings? Will there be a building closure if an individual in a school building tests positive for COVID-19? What policies and procedures will take place in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19 who was on the premises? Will employees who come into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 infected individual (at work or outside of work) self-quarantine and will they be compensated if they are unable to come into work? If so, provide the personnel procedures that will impact their employment status.
In the case of a surge of COVID-19 infections in the community how will it be decided to close buildings and then re-open them? What are the actions and protocols necessary to reopen buildings or systems after they have been closed? Describe any emergency outbreak protocols.
In the case of a confirmed case, provide information on protocols to care for in house sick students and confirmed positive students without symptoms in dorms and in PreK-12 schools and the protocols for sending them home. Is there a fully equipped isolation room(s) or isolation dorm(s)? How long will confirmed infected students and employees with or without symptoms be required to quarantine? How will the employer screen and identify employees and students for COVID-19? How will COVID-19 health status for infected students or staff be communicated to employees? Provide any COVID-19 community, student, staff and family communication protocols. Describe any short term dismissal standards and protocols in the event of an infected person is on the premises.
Provide information on any planned OSHA required training for staff relative to PPE, blood borne pathogens, removal of waste. Will cleaning staff be trained in the application and hazards of disinfectants and cleaning materials? Who will provide the training, will the training be on site and during the work day?
Will immune compromised employees, employees over 60 or other high-risk employees receive an accommodation and what accommodations are available? How does an employee or student apply for an accommodation? What are your work at home guidelines? Can employees who request to work from home because of health concerns do so at full pay?
Describe any safety administrative protocols being implemented including time for students and staff to wash their hands or use hand sanitizers during class or the school day?
Will students be eating lunch in their classrooms? What is the lunch schedule in PreK-12? H What adjustments will be made to building Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plans?
Provide a description of psychosocial services that will be provided to students and staff relative to the COVID-19 pandemic?
What is the condition of HVAC systems in each building? When was the air exchange system last evaluated? Provide the maintenance records (filter changes, inspection of AHU and exterior exhaust fans, AC units and the conditions of univents). What is the air exchange rate in each building? Have the condition of windows been evaluated, and are all windows operating properly?
What are the cleaning, sanitizing and dis-infecting methods and protocols? Provide the names of the guidance documents that will be followed. What disinfectants, tools and application methods (i.e. spraying, electrostatic spray tools, fogging,) will be used? What is the schedule of cleaning, sanitizing and dis-infecting when buildings are open and if they are closed? What products will be used to disinfect buildings and are they registered EPA disinfectants or approved for use? If disinfectants are not on the approved EPA list, what products will be used in each building? Is there a required re-entry waiting period after touch point disinfecting? Will cleaning products be made available to staff? Will a cleaning log be maintained and where will it be kept? Can the association have access to the cleaning log? Will disinfectant wipes be provided to clean keyboards and remote controls?
Is isolation space (rooms or buildings) for infected persons provided? If so, please describe the space, location and medical resources available.
Will hand sanitizers be provided by the employer at all building and where will they be located? At the entry to the building or at sanitizing stations? Will tissues be provided? Do all sinks have running water, will soap be available?
Will thermometers be provided to staff for screening? If so, what staff and what kind of thermometer? What are the protocols for taking and logging temperatures?
Will contaminated materials be disposed in accordance with OSHA 1910.1030 standards?
Will there be a nurse in every building? If not, what building will not have a nurse assigned? What medical provisions and medical devices be provided to nurses to deal with COVID-19? Will there be a triage room? What training have the nurses received?
Personal Protective Equipment
What personal protective equipment will be provided to staff including custodians, food handlers, staff and nurses?
Will protective masks be provided by the employer to staff and healthcare workers (N95 or N99)? Will nitrite gloves, gowns and face shields be made available to staff free of charge?
Will employees be fit tested, and trained in the proper use of PPE including donning and doffing as required by OSHA?
Thank you in advance to your written response and consideration of this matter. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.
Diana Marcus, President
Burlington Educators’ Association