Amherst-Pelham officials eye voluntary return to schools for teachers, staff 

  • Amherst Regional High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Amherst School Superintendent Michael Morris GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2021 2:50:07 PM

AMHERST — Rebuffed by the teachers union in efforts to reopen a memorandum of agreement that might allow in-person instruction to resume, representatives on the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional school committees are moving forward with a plan for staff to voluntarily return to school buildings.

The three committees Tuesday unanimously approved, with abstentions by Pelham representative Margaret Stancer and Amherst representative Kerry Spitzer, to have Superintendent Michael Morris develop and implement a plan in February in which teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff could, on their own, decide to be back in schools.

Any plan would be guided by advice from local health professionals consulted by Morris, and the committees would like him to work closely in collaboration with leadership of the Amherst Pelham Education Association, and gather input from the school committees and student families for a safe implementation.

Amherst representative Peter Demling crafted the proposal after what he said was a sad development late Monday in which the APEA’s executive board informed the committees that, while it would like to continue discussions with them, union membership in a survey did not give a mandate to adjust memorandum of agreement and its health metrics. That could essentially close the door on in-person learning for the foreseeable future.

Demling acknowledged that it won’t be easy for Morris to develop a plan, with complications including the possibility that some teachers in teams at the middle school might be in buildings, while others would not be.

“It’s a huge ask of the superintendent,” Demling said.

But Demling said it may be the only way to get a bulk of students into buildings before fall 2021.

The union has offered side agreements that would allow teachers and paraprofessionals and others who work with intensive needs students and preschoolers to be back on sites.

Pelham School Committee Chairwoman Sarah Hall said the plan to have staff return to school buildings voluntarily is an imperfect, but practical solution, as it shifts the oversight to the superintendent and places trust in health experts. 

Hall said it is incredibly important to make sure as many students as possible get some form of in-person learning this spring. Otherwise, they could go 18 months without that. 

In addition, Hall said the district will have bigger problems if families continue to leave the district seeking alternatives for in-person education.

Amherst representative Benjamin Herrington said the proposal strikes the right balance between safety and education. 

Spitzer’s abstention came after she expressed concern that the plan would close off conversations with the union’s executive board following a productive first meeting a week ago.

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


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