Facing a deadline to decide whether they will return to the classroom in September, Loudoun teachers are raising concerns about the long list of unknowns that remain in the school division’s back to school plan. Many simply don’t feel the plan is safe.
Teachers and parents must decide this week whether they will participate in part-time, in-person classes or sign up for 100 percent distance learning for the first semester of the 2020-21 school year.
In a series of virtual town hall meetings to over the past several days, administrators have worked to provide more details of the class structure and safety procedures that will be implemented when classes resume Sept. 8.
For many teachers, those session have only shined light on new concerns—from classroom cleaning schedules to ensuring equitable sick leave policies.
On Monday, the Loudoun Education Association, which represents more than 3,600 division employees, recommended its members stay out of the classroom at least until the start of the second semester in January.
According to statement, “The Loudoun Education Association believes the best course of action is to start the school year with distance learning. This decision is based on LEA’s survey results, focus groups, and member discussions. This gives educators the opportunity to participate in professional development, collaborate to modify curriculum, and develop protocols which meet the needs of students and employees in an online environment.”
The LEA also is pressing for educators to have more involvement in the planning for COVID-era education.
“The current most critical need is to ensure educators, students, and our community are safe. As educators, we are charged with the academic growth, physical safety, and emotional well-being of our students,” according to the statement. “… LEA expects educators to be an integral part of the planning process. It is important to include our perspectives, as we are on the front lines working with students on a daily basis. LEA members demand that they be involved in the development of future LCPS plans.”
On Monday afternoon, LEA members planned to reinforce that position with a socially distanced car rally at the School Administration Building in Ashburn.
Teachers participated in a July 8 virtual town hall meeting with administrators. Among the new concerns that surfaced during that session was that the plans did not envision that classroom surfaces would be cleaned during the day, including between classes for middle and high school students or before and after lunch. Administrators said the policy stemmed from a worry that cleaning products teachers might use could react with the cleaners used by the janitorial staff to pose allergy concerns.
“Would you eat in a restaurant that didn’t clean their tables in between customers? The answer, for most, would probably be no,” one teacher wrote after the session.
Administrators later adjusted the plan to allow teachers who become certified, through video training, to use the approved cleaning chemicals to conduct mid-day classroom cleaning.
Another teacher concern expressed during that session and during a Sunday afternoon virtual town hall conducted by Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33) was what happens when teachers are forced—perhaps repeatedly—to quarantine themselves if they test positive for the virus or come into contact with an infected student, colleague or community member. There have been no announced plans to offer expanded sick leave or other income protections. While raises and step increases have been suspended because of the coronavirus’ impact on state and local budgets, some teachers have suggested hazard pay should be offered to staff members who head back into the schools.
Teachers also want assurances they’ll have enough appropriate personal protective equipment—perhaps beyond the five masks administrators plan to supply each employee—and access to frequent—perhaps free—COVID-19 testing, along with a strong contact tracing system.
For many educators, classroom safety to ensure the safety of the school community as well as their own families relies on a level of trust they haven’t yet reached.
“It scares the heck out of us because we love our kids,” LEA President David Palanzi said.
“We need to have trust in the community. We need to have trust in community leaders,” he said.