FRAMINGHAM – Dear Principals Banach, Johnson, Melick, and Wood, and Assistant Superintendent Ludes:
Ms. Melick’s remarks on behalf of secondary principals at the August 5th School Committee meeting
suggest a lack of confidence in teachers that we find disheartening and demoralizing. Our leaders know that we all miss being with our students and our colleagues. Our emails, phone calls, and video conferences with you in the spring let you know how deeply we care for our students as we advocated for their food, safety, housing, and technology needs.
From the first day school was closed, we wanted to teach our students and move forward with curriculum; now, with professional development opportunities and a more structured plan, the fall presents us with an opportunity to make remote learning a rich and rigorous experience for all of our students.
We disagree that remote teaching will be most effective when done from school buildings.
In her statement, Ms. Melick said, “If teachers return to school and teach from their classrooms, they will have all of their education materials close at hand, including technology that they might not have at home, such as projectors and document readers, two pieces of equipment that are used by most teachers.”
Numerous online tools and platforms eliminate the need for these.
For example, Ann Mariano created a course on how to use Canvas effectively. It showed us that the Kami feature can do the job of a document camera; that Canvas allows us to screen share, eliminating the need for a projector; and that Big Blue Button has a white board feature, eliminating the need for a physical white board. Also, scanning apps mean we do not need access to copiers, and Google voice accounts allow us to keep our personal phone numbers private.
Ms. Melick and Ms. Ludes both argued that meaningful collaboration is not possible if we are working outside of the school building. All spring, staff collaborated virtually, and middle school teachers began to collaborate across schools. Administrators who rarely attended meetings in the building were able to attend virtual meetings. Spontaneous collaborations happened via texts, phone calls, and emails. We discovered that technologies that allow us to meet remotely do not limit, but rather broaden and enrich our collaborations.
Ms. Ludes stated, “I think you would be hard-pressed to find an educator, an administrator or a teacher, who says that they don’t find value in those small little hallway conversations that just happen in a moment, unstructured, unplanned, unscheduled via Zoom, and those would go away, entirely, if we were fully remote.”
Of course we find value in those. But, the Staff Plan for COVID-19 states that “In general, congregation of staff will be discouraged. FPS will continue to limit meetings and conduct meetings virtually as much as possible” and that “Employees must limit travel between offices, classrooms, floors, and between buildings.”
The district’s own plan means that no matter where we are, we will still be holding meetings remotely, and that limited movement will mean that those small hallway conversations are unlikely to happen.
Both Ms. Melick and Ms. Ludes claimed staff would be safe working from buildings, with Ms. Ludes suggesting that we could remove face masks while teaching from our classrooms. Many of us would feel unsafe removing our masks inside of school buildings, as we are unsure of safety equipment, cleaning protocols, and air quality upgrades. Many would be teaching while wearing a mask– neither an effective teaching strategy, nor an indication to students that the buildings are safe.
We are concerned about interruptions to learning that will undoubtedly occur if staff must teach from school buildings. If we have COVID symptoms, many of which are similar to those of seasonal allergies and colds, we will have to self-isolate until we are symptom-free for 3 days or until we receive a negative COVID test. During that time, our students will not learn with us. If we have the choice to teach from home, we can continue to teach remotely while monitoring our symptoms, or waiting for the results of a COVID test. A strict “teaching from the classroom” policy means that teachers who would be able to work remotely from home may need to take a leave of absence. The position of the district appears to be that they would prefer substitutes teaching from the building to teachers teaching from home.
Finally, our professionalism is being called into question. Ms. Melick said of teachers: “They’ll be in the building and will better understand the logistics, which will allow them to share their valuable perspective and feedback.”
If our perspective and feedback is valuable, administrators and district leadership should be listening to it now. Teachers need to work where they can teach most effectively, whether that is from home, from school buildings, or from some combination of the two. This flexibility should be given to all teachers. It is disheartening to realize that our own principals do not feel that we have the professional judgement to make that decision for ourselves.
There is a lack of transparency as to what is truly driving the insistence that staff teach from school buildings. As several school committee members pointed out, the logic of the administrators’ arguments do not hold up. Our community and our educators deserve clear and honest communication in this time where we lack comprehensive data about the spread of a new and potentially fatal virus.
We know there has been an outpouring of support from the community and we are so appreciative of and encouraged by that. We are hopeful that it will demonstrate to the School Committee, and school and district leadership, that teachers should be trusted.
Framingham Teachers Association Secondary Building Representatives
Cameron Middle School
Brigid Byrne Rowlings
Fuller Middle School
Walsh Middle School