Union 38 teachers: In-person instruction a risk

  • Whately Elementary School. Parents and teachers in the Union 38 School District — which includes Whately, Conway, Sunderland and Deerfield — expressed further concern this week with students returning to in-person instruction in the fall. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2020 10:38:01 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Parents and teachers in the Union 38 School District expressed further concern this week with students returning to in-person instruction in the fall, with many advocating in favor of a “robust” remote learning program.

“I would like nothing more than to be in the classroom, face-to-face with my students ... but I think that we are romanticizing what that will look like in the reality of our global health crisis,” said Kim Salditt-Poulin, a special education teacher at Sunderland Elementary School.

At a joint Union 38 School Committee meeting on Tuesday, committee members, administrators and members of the public discussed the most recent draft of the school reopening plan. The meeting, which was held remotely, was attended by more than 130 individuals.

Tuesday’s draft of the district’s reopening plan follows the release of the most recent guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), which included rules on transportation, and the delayed start of instruction to allow for 10 additional days of staff and teacher training.

School Committee members, who have discussed the draft reopening plans at length with community members and administrators over the last several weeks, expect to vote to choose one of the three plans — in-person, remote or hybrid — next week.

Referencing the hybrid model of learning, Salditt-Poulin said school will not look, or feel, like it did before schools closed in March.

Guidance from DESE, she explained, advises students should have assigned seats and not share materials, and they must stay six feet apart during mask breaks.

“This is not school as our children left it,” Salditt-Poulin said. “A lot of talk has been taking place about the negative social and emotional impacts of distance learning, but the type of learning that is being discussed happening in our school buildings come fall in a hybrid model sounds like it could be pretty traumatic.”

She acknowledged the difficulty of remote learning on families, but argued that, under the circumstances, “it’s the safest option.”

Ryan Copeland, another teacher at Sunderland Elementary School, echoed Salditt-Poulin’s sentiments, noting that the Union 38 membership supports a “robust remote learning plan.”

“I believe we should be careful assuming … that in-person instruction will automatically be more effective than remote learning,” he said, “because after all, the in-person instruction we would be providing is nowhere near that type of instruction that we know is best practice.”

As for the safety of students and teachers, Copeland also argued there are still a number of unknowns with respect to COVID-19.

“Returning to in-person instruction is a risk we don’t have to take,” he said.

Many other teachers felt similarly to their Sunderland counterparts, including Lisa Galer, a special education teacher at Deerfield Elementary School, who asked the School Committee to dedicate more time to improving the remote learning model.

However, Lora Hanas, a secretary at Conway Grammar School, said she is “100 percent confident” returning to school in a hybrid model.

“I respect anyone that is not comfortable sending their child to school, and I respect all the staff that is uncomfortable with it, also,” Hanas said. “All I’m asking is that you all put your trust in our administration that they will make sure they take every precaution for the safety of all of us.”

Megan Tudryn, who is an emergency room nurse, as well as a school nurse in the district and a contact tracing nurse, said her experience over the last several months has changed her perspective and offered her a different point of view from others who spoke at the meeting.

“Several months ago I was afraid,” she said. “I was afraid to come home from work to my children, I was afraid to expose my high-risk parents. … However, things have changed. I’m no longer afraid.”

With the proper personal protective equipment and responsible hand-washing, Tudryn said people can be safe.

“I’ve been face-to-face with COVID patients, and I was OK,” she said. “And that’s because I used the tools that were given to us.”

Christine O’Connell, a parent and health care worker, said she had a similar experience to Tudryn.

“I think we have a lot of tools and a lot of knowledge,” she explained. “We know how we can prevent COVID at this point.”

O’Connell also told School Committee members to consider families and their needs.

“There’s a lack of child care. A lot of families aren’t able to teach their kids at home effectively,” she said. “There’s (students) with two working parents who don’t have any options for time off to be at home with their kids when they remote learn, or even with the hybrid model.”

Copeland and others who spoke Tuesday acknowledged the difficult decision before the School Committee and school administrators.

“No matter what school reopening looks like,” he said. “I know the teachers and staff of this district will rise to the challenge and do our best to deliver quality instruction to our students.”

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