Position Statement of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union
Regarding Return to School In-Person - January 2021
The right decision to return to any in-person instruction during a global pandemic should only be made when it is safe and the possibility of students and staff being sent home is minimal. Currently, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health has a stay-at-home advisory in effect. It is unknown when the advisory may be lifted. The decision to return to in-person instruction school should be based on the safety of our students and staff, not the decisions of other organizations or pressure from the community.
Self-Contained SPED students:
Early in the school year, it was decided that students with autism and students with multiple disabilities who are assigned to self-contained classrooms would return to in-person learning. A total of 66 students, which was approximately 30% of the self-contained population were back in their buildings. 30 staff members were required to instruct in-person even though our Union and administration agreed to a Letter of Understanding (LOU) that stated all instruction would be remote. The administration’s interpretation of this LOU caused our members and students to be in an unsafe environment with Covid numbers on the rise. Eventually, all students and staff were sent back to fully remote in November. These inconsistencies are not ideal for students. They need stability. A solid plan must be in place so this doesn’t happen again.
Vaccine and High Covid Numbers:
The Covid vaccine has finally arrived which is a huge relief. School staff is a priority in the 1B group, one of the first slated to be eligible for the vaccine. However, we have not been vaccinated yet, and the exact date of its availability is unknown. Even after our staff is vaccinated we still have all of our students under the age of 16, as well as families of staff and students that are not eligible to receive the vaccine. Once vaccinated it would be 1-2 weeks before fully protected. Covid infection numbers continue to stay high. Until the vaccine is more readily available to the general public, these numbers may continue to climb. We believe to return to school in-person safely the entire staff needs to be vaccinated, the vaccine becomes available to the general public, and the 7-day average drops below 1,000 cases in the State of Ohio per day. Below chronicles CHUH student learning thus far this school year:
- September 1, 2020 rolling day average was 1,159- All students were virtual. September 29, 2020 MD/AU students returned to in-person instruction 3 days a week.
- October 1, 2020 rolling day average was 1,081- SPED students in MD/AU were in-person.
- November 1, 2020 rolling day average was 2,983- MD/AU students in-person instruction suspended on November 19, 2020.
- December 1, 2020 rolling day average was 8,312- All students were virtual.
- January 1, 2021 rolling day average was 6,675- All students are virtual.
- *Source CDC
Our schools are not yet safe places to be filled with children. By nature, children don’t socially distance themselves. Sanitizing as often as needed will be impossible without enough cleaning staff. It is very difficult for adults to wear the mask properly, so how can we expect our students to wear masks properly all day? Eating breakfasts and lunches in the classrooms is not safe because students will be unmasked. Changing classrooms in middle school and high school is unsafe with students moving in the common areas. We were told at our January 11, 2021, re-opening meeting that students only need to be 3 feet apart. In all other businesses and venues, the recommended distance is 6 feet. Although we are told the buildings have good filtration and are clean this contradicts what we have known to be true for years. Virtual learning guarantees safety. In-person instruction at this time is not safe, and we are not prepared to navigate all the unknowns.
The instructional model where some students are being taught from home and some are being taught in-person at the same time is unworkable. The students in-person need undivided attention for learning and behavior management. The students at home even with the best microphones or cameras will not be able to keep pace with what is happening in class. The best-case scenario is that students who are receiving in-person instruction will need to be kept separate while some staff continues to teach remotely along with the students who will remain at home. We will need to plan carefully when our students return to school after learning virtually for almost a year. This alone requires very strategic instruction in protocols and procedures for being in a school building. None of this planning has been initiated.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) provided employees with paid leave for certain qualifying reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the FFCRA, an employee qualified for paid sick leave if the employee was unable to work (or unable to telework) due to a personal or family COVID -related illness. Unfortunately, this was not renewed in the latest federal relief bill passed in late November. We want our Board to take action to continue to provide the equivalent of FFCRA assistance to our staff. No staff member should have to use sick leave if she/he is forced to come back to in-person instruction in an unsafe environment. When we return to school this protection will be more important than ever.
The District leadership has spent a great deal of time in meetings on the return to in-person teaching and learning with parents, teachers and other stakeholders. However, there has been very little discussion on what the day-to-day operations of school will look like when students and staff return. This will not be a typical February. This is Covid. This is our temporary new normal. Parents should not expect their children to receive the same type of in-person instruction l that was in place prior to schools being shut down in March of 2020. Students will still be learning on a computer. They will sit at a desk wearing a mask and behind a plastic shield. Their teachers will not be able to interact with them up close because they will also be at a desk in a mask behind a plastic shield. There are still so many questions about what school will look like that the District has failed to consider, much less answer. Here are some examples:
- Bathroom schedules- How do we social distance children in bathrooms?
- Where do students place their belongings if all a classroom has are hooks or lockers that are too close together?
- Cases will be needed for all Chromebooks to protect them as students travel between home and school
- We are worried that the district may not have enough Chromebooks or extra charging cords. What is the procedure If a student breaks or loses her/his Chromebook or forgets to bring it to school? What safety protocols are in place when students are not required to wear their masks? (i.e., eating breakfast in the classroom, mask breaks, etc.).
- What is the consequence for a student that refuses to wear a mask or follow safety protocols?
- What are quarantine procedures if a student exhibits symptoms during the day?
- How do teachers manage lines of students exiting busses while waiting for temperature checks?
- How will shared playground equipment be kept sanitized? How will students social distance during recess time?
- What happens to students who come to school a day they are not scheduled to be there ?
- What support does the district have in place for teaching both online and in-person students at the same time?
- How will we fill teacher vacancies with substitute shortages at an all-time high?
- How will teachers know how to plan instruction when the number of students returning to in-person is unknown and may not be known until February 1st.
We understand that there is some community pressure to return to in-person instruction. However, the safety of students and staff must take precedence. Whether or not other school districts have returned to in-person instruction should not be a factor in deciding whether Cleveland Heights-University Heights should return. Teachers want to be back with their students. However, we do not want to be back in an environment that we know is unsafe. Unless the vaccine is readily available and new infection rates are declining we should not even discuss returning in person. We understand that this might mean returning for the 4th quarter or not at all for the 2020-2021 school year. When we do return to a safe environment we know that our staff will continue to work as hard as ever to help our students be successful.