Presidents of 51 teacher and school staff unions in the Hudson Valley issued an open letter Friday opposing the hybrid school reopening model, saying it poses “significant risks” to students and teachers.
Pelham Teachers’ Association President Mark Finegan’s signature was left off of the letter due to a technical error, Finegan said in a statement he provided, though the union and Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ were aware that he was one of the original signatories.
“I am thankful that the unions have collectively come together to support a phased opening and proud of the hard work everyone has put into planning during the summer,” he said. “The health and safety of all students, faculty, staff and the Pelham community is our top priority, and I am in full support of the points outlined in the letter.”
The Pelham Union Free School District has said it will either use a hybrid or virtual teaching program this fall.
“The hybrid model requirement gained traction in the state early on, but unfortunately, most of what we have recently learned about Covid-19 and children calls the safety of this model into question,” said the letter from the union presidents. “These risks are not a reflection of inadequate efforts by any district or administrative team in protecting the children and staff in their schools. Rather, they are inherent inadequacies when a system designed around instructing students is tasked with creating learning environments that will protect children and teachers during a viral pandemic.”
Pelham high school teacher James Ferreri said that safety should be the top priority when discussing potential reopening plans. “It sounds like the district has moved mountains to try to prepare us for a safe return,” he said, regarding the regulations currently in place for Pelham’s hybrid model.
The union leaders credited the “truly impressive work” being done by educators through July and August to get ready for school opening, but said it wouldn’t be enough to use the hybrid approach.
“It is irrational to expect students will be able to learn in any reasonable manner when their teachers and administrators are constantly conveying the need for vigilance in mask-wearing and social distancing,” the letter said. “The constant need for vigilance cannot help but be internalized as fear and anxiety. At best, schools will be more similar to a well-meaning prison than an actual rich learning environment where thoughts can be shared and joy can be expressed.”
In order for students, teachers and staff to return to school safely, the union presidents listed six required measures:
All building-wide HVAC systems must be upgraded to a minimum of MERV-13 filtration, and if existing systems cannot be upgraded, portable units with HEPA filtration must be available for all indoor spaces.
There must be uniform standards for Covid testing that help monitor asymptomatic spread. Covid testing must provide accurate and reliable results within 24 hours in order to monitor asymptomatic spread. The current wait time can be as high as 12 days, which is not adequate to help prevent the spread of Covid by asymptomatic individuals infected with Covid in our schools.
Supply lines for PPE must be prioritized to deliver all necessary PPE to schools in a timely fashion. All schools must have an adequate supply of PPE at all times, including enhanced PPE for students and employees who require it.
School districts must be able to guarantee that there is sufficient staff to supervise students and provide instruction, even as individual staff members are absent for illness or quarantine, child-care or personal leaves.
There must be a 100% virtual option for teachers and students who are medically compromised.
Plans should require a minimum 14-day shutdown once closed for Covid-19 issues.
“To create truly safe re-entry plans, districts would require more time, direction and resources,” the labor leaders wrote. “It is telling that neither the state nor federal governments have provided additional resources to help ensure a safe re-entry; districts have been on their own… There is too much at stake to fall short of the safest possible model.”
The letter was signed by following:
Marcia Heffler, Dobbs Ferry United Teachers
Edward Caperna, USWOM
Michael Lillis, Lakeland Federation of Teachers
Nate Morgan, Hastings Teachers Association
Vanessa Vaccaro, Ossining Teachers Association
Tom McMahon, Mahopac Teachers’ Association
Jennifer Maldonado, Hendrick Hudson Education Association
Elisa Rosen, Hendrick Hudson Education Association
David Wixted, Scarsdale Teachers Association
Anthony Nicodemo, Greenburgh North Castle United Teachers
Mary Claire Breslin, New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees
Samantha Rosado-Ciriello, Yonkers Federation of Teachers
Brenda O’Shea, Somers Faculty Association
Andrea McCue, Haldane Faculty Association
James Groven, Irvington Faculty Association
Judith A. Kelly, Teachers’ Association of the Tarrytowns
Chris Tyler, Harrison Association of Teachers
Jeanne Whelan, Tuckahoe Teachers’ Association
Roseanna Cutietta, Hawthorne Cedar Knolls Federation of Teachers
Rick Tivnan, Brewster Teachers’ Association
Carene Domato, Mt. Vernon Federation of Teachers
Melissa Barreto, BOCES Teachers’ Association
Jeff Yonkers, NYSUT ED 16 Director
Sean Kennedy, Yorktown Congress of Teachers
Lisa Jackson, Carmel Teachers’ Association
Janet Knight, Mamaroneck Teachers’ Association
José Fernandez, Peekskill Faculty Association
Amy Geiger, Katonah-Lewisboro District Teachers’ Association
Kathleen Fox, Edgemont Teachers’ Association
Miriam Longobardi, Chappaqua Congress of Teachers
Jennifer Cole, Greenburgh Eleven Federation of Teachers
Jim Nolan, Mount Pleasant Cottage School Teachers Association
Kara McCormick-Lyons, White Plains Teachers’ Association
Alyson Tina, Ardsley Congress of Teachers
Ryan Odell, Putnam Valley Federation of Teachers
Catherine Armisto, United Staff Association (PNW BOCES)
Vincent Kennedy, Katonah-Lewisboro Support Staff Association
Jennifer Moore, Croton Teachers’ Association
Melinda Merkel, Rye Neck Teachers’ Association
Jim Agnello, Bronxville Teachers’ Association
Kevin Budzynski, Elmsford Teachers Association
Clare Delongchamp, Eastchester Teachers’ Association
Vanessa Van Deusen, Graham School Federation of Teachers
Virginia Campbell, Mount Pleasant Teachers Association
Michael Groarke, Bedford Teachers’ Association
Sparrow Tobin, Board of Directors NYSUT ED14
Laura Beck, Orange-Ulster BOCES Teachers Association
Ray Hodges, Monroe-Woodbury Teachers Association
Theresa Uhelsky, Minisink Valley Teachers Association
Chris White, Middletown Teachers Association
Jon Wedvik, Clarkstown Teachers Association