With the beginning of school just days away, the bargaining unit for city teachers has sent a “Memorandum of Agreement” to the Board of Education and Superintendent to hammer out concerns posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The memo was delivered to the board and Superintendent Neil C. Cavallaro last week, and is currently being scrutinized by legal counsel.
The eight-page, 58-item memorandum is concerned mostly with safety precautions and some work-related conditions as schools reopen next week. Cavallaro said the document was sent to Floyd Dugas, counsel for the Board of Education for review. Cavallaro didn’t see anything unusual in the mem at first glance.
“I received the document from the West Haven Federation of Teachers last night and forwarded it to the Board’s attorney for comment,” he said. “ I believe the document is one that is similar to others being presented to Boards around the State from their teacher groups. I have not had the opportunity to review it with Attorney Dugas as of now.”
Kristen Malloy-Scanlon, president of the West Haven Federation of Teachers, spoke before the Board of Education at its last meeting, and the topic of safety concerns were voiced in a lengthy statement. Theconcerns touched upon included ventilation and sanitizing of equipment as well as work-related expectations.
Malloy said with the opening of school and the planning process, the concerns of staff should be noted as those plans develop.
“Formally engaging teachers, para-educators and school nurses staff early and throughout the entire planning process should be a critical component of any successful re-entry plans,” she said this week. “Our members believe that we’re an integral part of the school community — something we expect the superintendent and all district officials would agree with.
Last month, the Board of Education adopted so-called “Plan B” as its reopening structure to the State of Connecticut. That included opening of all buildings with a five-day-a-week, half-day schedule. Lunches will be provided students, but they will be for take-home purposes only to avoid congregating in enclosed areas. Classrooms include social-distancing, while all areas of buildings are being fitted to allow for extra class space.
The plan calls for teachers to be in their classroom, according to Cavallaro, based on data from various sources.
“The administration, at least for now, isn’t allowing teachers to teach from home. We believe, based on the data, released from the Health and Education Departments, that it is safe for teachers and students to return to school. We will continue to monitor any new information as it becomes available,” he said..
The union leader and the superintendent agree that health and safety are the number-one concerns of both teachers and administration.
“We also expect they would agree that our shared focus should be on protecting the health and safety of my members — but most importantly, our students. That was the spirit in which we turned out two weeks ago to update the board of education on our union’s efforts at collaboration (see attached prepared public,” Malloy-Scanon said.
Cavallaro, meanwhile, said everything his administration has done has been with that in mind.
“This administration has spent the last two months preparing for the opening of school. We believe that we are prepared for any scenario that may occur. However, since this a first time experience for all involved, we know that we must be flexible and be ready to adjust plans at a minute’s notice,” he said.
Staff-wise, Cavallaro said some teachers and staff have “opted out” of the year because working from home is not in the current plan.
“There are approximately twenty staff members who’ve opted out of returning, most are teachers. While many have offered to work from home, currently that isn’t an option,” he said.
Cavallaro said once the board’s counsel has looked over the document, the administration will know it’s next step.
“In speaking previously with Mr. Dugas, he has stated that similar documents take weeks to negotiate,” Cavallaro said.
Union President Malloy-Scanlon is hoping the memo will be the topic of a negotiation that puts both the union’s and system’s expectations on paper. She is hoping those talks begin sooner rather than later.
“To date, the issues we spoke to remain unresolved. Despite that, we are ready, willing and able to sit down at any time with the superintendent and district officials to finalize an effective plan with safeguards for reopening safely,” she said.
Cavallaro, meanwhile, said all that can be done to allay fears and get things on track are being done by teachers and staff.
“I certainly understand that everyone has concerns about returning to school. In general, however, I am pleased with the number of teachers who’ve been in buildings and working to prepare for the opening. Most are excited about coming back and are looking forward to working with their students. We will do all we can to assist them, reassure them we’re prepared, and provide them with what they need to deliver high quality instruction to the students of West Haven,” he said.