ATF Position Letter to the BOE on Re-Opening Our Schools

July 15, 2020

Dear Superintendent Elder and Members of the APS Board of Education,

Educators clearly know that in-person school is best for their students and have expressed deep concerns about meeting the instructional needs of our students in a hybrid or distance learning setting. However, they also have legitimate worries about the safety of educators, students, and our communities.

We are working in good faith to negotiate contract language that addresses the complexity of terms and conditions of employment during COVID-19 and the reopening of schools. We have yet to reach agreement and I cannot overemphasize the overwhelming concerns of your employees about reopening in-person instruction too soon – even in a hybrid model.

I am sure you have heard that Las Cruces, West Las Vegas, Los Alamos, and Silver City are beginning full remote learning starting in August and lasting, at least, until Labor Day.

I trust that this will soon become a state-wide phenomenon, but for the sake of your employees’ peace of mind, please consider changing the recommendation from your administration that would have us starting hybrid schooling on August 25th. Instead, decide tonight to start in-person school after Labor Day IF the data shows 14 consecutive days of declining cases in Bernalillo County. Let the data, CDC guidelines, and science determine the return of in-person instruction, not an arbitrary date on the calendar.

In response to APS educators’ concerns and questions, ATF Leadership drafted a proposal on re-opening and asked our members if they agreed with the following statement:

 

PROPOSED ATF STATEMENT ON 2020-21 SCHOOL YEAR RE-ENTRY

As educators we know that real school (brick and mortar with in-person instruction) ​ is best for students.

We all want to return to real school.

However, real school has to be really safe for all staff and every student.

We do not believe that the current data supports a safe return to in-person schooling in early August.

We, the members of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, propose the following:

  • Start school on the original start date in August for all staff.
  • Delay in-person schooling for students until, at least, after Labor Day.
  • Start the hybrid model for students on September 8th if the data indicates that it is safe.

 

During the first month of school educators will:

  • Engage in virtual home visits in order to establish a relationship with students and their guardians/parents.
  • Assess what supports the students/families need in order to successfully engage in online learning.
  • Distribute technology and establish in-home broadband hot spots for all families and staff.
  • Learn more and develop expertise in online learning.
  • Collaborate with our peers to develop engaging age-appropriate online learning lesson plans.
  • Coordinate with fellow educators who share students in the same family to establish workable schedules for online learning.
  • Coordinate with administration and bus drivers to ensure that families with multiple students have the same school schedule when we return.
  • Work with site administrators to create an appropriate schedule for September that takes into consideration the complexity of High School and Middle School course needs and that purposefully includes an advisory period that supports each students’ social emotional learning.
  • Work with community partners to assess the day-care needs of every family.
  • Coordinate the daycare needs for our own (educators’) children.
  • Rearrange each classroom and school to ensure social distancing is possible.
  • Work with our district to identify bathrooms and other school facilities that are out of date or broken and do not support current cleaning and safety guidelines.
  • Work with the district to conduct a survey of all employees in order to determine who may be at-risk because of age and/or preexisting conditions, ensure that they have an appropriately safe position within the district so that we do not suffer mass retirements, ensure that parents have choices for their online learning beyond September, and provide online learning for medically fragile students.
  • Develop school-based plans for lunches, specials, etc.
  • Order and receive the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all staff and every student.
  • Teach… and more!

 

 

ATF MEMBER RESPONSES TO PROPOSED STATEMENT ON RE-OPENING

Agree with Statement as Written     88%

Conditionally Agree                                       8%

Do Not Agree (Ready to go back

On Aug 12 w/hybrid model)                4%

Conditions that were repeatedly voiced by the 8% who clicked “I disagree” but expressed partial agreement with the statement “with some conditions” include:

  1. Childcare for educators’ kids and the community: How will this work?
  2. How will we provide help for students with IEPs, English Learners, and other at-risk students with the extra in-person support they will need for distance learning.
  3. It is not safe to go back. We need to teach online until the pandemic is under control. This is especially important to educators, students, and their family members who have pre-existing conditions (health and age).
  4. We are worried about provision of PPE. The ventilation and HVAC are inadequate at many of our schools. We don’t have access to sanitizing stations and we are worried about staffing for cleaning. How available will COVID testing be? We need more nurses and health aides.
  5. We must plan better and address access to technology, ability to use technology and/or home support for online learning so that we can better reach and teach more students.

APS educators are not alone in feeling these concerns. The American Federation of Teachers, our national union, polled members​ across the United States. “The nationwide survey of nearly 1,200 K-12 educators, paraprofessionals and higher education faculty and staff found that 76 percent of educators say they’d be comfortable going back to school if key safety precautions are met. The precautions they identify are specific to preventing virus spread, including appropriate physical distancing, adequate ventilation and cleaning, and necessary face coverings and other personal protective equipment. The poll also shows a plurality of educators expect a hybrid model for schools this fall, with 82 percent saying distance learning has not been nearly as effective as face-to-face instruction.”

Although ATF members echoed the assertion of other union educators across the nation that distance learning cannot perfectly replace the in-person classroom experience, a safe school environment and logistical planning will take more than the one week of time educators are scheduled to have for planning before students arrive. Again, we want to teach and interact with students in-person when it is safe. However, our district is not prepared to implement the hybrid model and meet the safety needs of our staff, students, and their loved ones who will all be exposed to COVID-19 if we do not take adequate precautions. Exacerbating these problems is the inadequate funding of our schools to meet these new requirements and challenges. We also assert that, as online learning will be a necessary component of any school re-opening model, access to technology is a basic right of our public school students and staff. We believe that the City of Albuquerque, the State of New Mexico, and APS should act now to develop a public utility internet option that will make Bernalillo County a “hotspot” where internet access is available for all.

The safety of our students, staff, and families is our #1 priority. We hope that you will join the growing number of districts waiting until after Labor Day at the earliest to start hybrid schooling.

Sincerely,

Ellen Bernstein

President, Albuquerque Teachers Federation

Cc: ATF Bargaining Unit

— Ellen Bernstein, NBCT, Ed.D. President, Albuquerque Teachers Federation Tel: 505.262.2657 Ext. 202 Fax: 505.266.1967

Your union has your back! We are working through negotiations and advocacy to make sure that schools are safe before educators and students return to in-person learning. Imagine how loudly our voice will be heard when 100% of APS educators raise it together! Not yet a member? JOIN YOUR UNION TODAY!