Teachers express concerns about the start of the school year

Sept. 10, 2020 | G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE – Teachers went before the School Committee on Sept. 2 to appeal for greater clarification about the district’s plan to reopen schools.

The teachers appeared during the public comment portions of the meeting, which meant the School Committee and Mayor John Vieau could not comment on the questions and concerns.

As school Superintendent Lynn Clark said last month in response to the vote approving the district’s hybrid model, “Chicopee’s School Committee approved a type of hybrid plan, which satisfies DESE’s guidelines, whereby approximately 10 percent of students would return to school buildings on Sept. 15 while the remaining 90 percent would engage in remote learning. This is far fewer students than many surrounding districts who have chosen to proceed with a more traditional hybrid plan where up to 50 percent of students could return to school buildings each day.”

Clark, added in her message on Aug. 16, “What we are hearing from families and students is that they are upset and frustrated that students may not be able to return to school for weeks or even months under this plan. For that, I apologize. I honestly do. But please know that on Dec. 1, if metrics allow the phases to move ahead, approximately 3,000 students will be in the schools, full enrollment is 6,700. A complete plan with final additional details and protocols will be sent out. A draft had already been sent out about two weeks ago.

 “All parents can choose the remote option for their child/children.”

As Sept. 15 approaches, teachers told the committee many instructors are uncertain about the immediate future.

Carol Callahan, who teaches at Dupont Middle School, said, “I have always and will always do whatever it takes for my students.”

She called for transparency and the importance of sharing information.

The MERV air filters being used to cleanse the air on that building are at a lower standard than they should. She said there is no guarantee for air quality and safety.

Speaking of the self-directed remote lessons, she said, “This is a severe and unfair disservice to our students.”

She, too, mentioned that teachers do not yet know if they will be teaching remotely or in the building, which building they will be in and what will they be teaching.

How paraprofessionals will be used has not yet been determined, she added.

She said Chicopee teachers will “work to ensure the best education possible while keeping them safe.”

She urged the committee to utilize a full remote model until after Thanksgiving in order to make sure all of the buildings are safe for the students, family and staff.

Paula Goudreau, an English instructor at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, said that some students would not have live instructors through the remote option.

She had been told the district would use a self-directed curriculum for some subjects with previously record lessons.

She also said she had been told there is a proposal for teachers to instruct to remote students at the same time they have students in the classroom.

“There are so many difficulties to manage kids on a screen and kids at the classroom,” she said. “It’s an extremely difficult thing to do.”

She added that she and other teachers do not yet have schedules. “I don’t know what I’m teaching,” she said.

Chicopee Comp English teacher Gina Potorski-Dahl said she and her colleagues have tried to educate and protect students. Now, she said, teachers need to be protected from the pandemic.

“We deserve the same respect we give to students when it comes to answers,” she said. “We deserve answers. We deserve truth. We deserve transparency. And we would like to know what a day is going to look like,” she said.

She expressed concern in the differences between the self-direct remote lessons and interactions with a live teacher.

Clark declined to comment on what the teachers had to say because of her involvement on the negotiations committee.

As of press time, Vieau has not yet provided a response.

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