Return to Amherst-Pelham schools in limbo amid union-schools disconnect

Staff Writer
Published: 11/19/2020 9:54:55 PM
Modified: 11/19/2020 9:54:44 PM

AMHERST — Students in Amherst and Pelham’s elementary schools, and in the Amherst-Pelham regional schools, are continuing entirely remote instruction as uncertainty remains about whether discussions centered on returning to the buildings will resume between the School Committee and the teachers union.

Any decision to return to in-person education will come from the Joint Labor Management Safety Committee, which was supposed to meet Nov. 13. But that meeting was cut short when representatives from the Amherst Pelham Education Association opted not to participate.

Students have been taught remotely for most of the fall semester, with in-person instruction lasting less than two weeks before health metrics, established in a memorandum of agreement over the summer, triggered the return to remote instruction on Oct. 26.

The teachers union and School Committee had set a seven-day weighted case rate in the region of 28 per 100,000 people as the threshold for prompting a meeting on returning to remote instruction. That weighted case rate, as of Wednesday, stood at 151.4 per 100,000 people.

Despite the high COVID-19 case numbers, a group of parents has pushed for finding a way to get students back into the classrooms.

On Tuesday, the executive board of the Amherst Pelham Education Association issued a statement about its reasoning for not participating in the last safety panel meeting. It cited what it called a unilateral decision to change the format by having School Committee members replace Superintendent Michael Morris on the joint committee, and also a move to add Amherst’s health director to the mix.

And though the union acknowledges its support for transparency, it was concerned about broadcasting these meetings, and possibly discussing individual education plans, or IEPs.

“Before meetings are held in public, all members of the committee need to have a clear understanding of how this will work and how confidentiality will be preserved, not only of staff, but of students with IEPs for whom confidentiality is a legal requirement,” the union wrote.

In addition, the union noted it had asked the School Committee to postpone the safety panel meeting until there was clarity on its form and setting: “Although they received notice prior to the agenda being set or public notice sent out, they decided to meet anyway.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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