Greenwich Teachers: Too Many Questions, Too Few Answers

Submitted by Carol Sutton, President Greenwich Education Association

In three days 900 Greenwich teachers are expected to return to work in their buildings. Yet, as of August 17, when GEA’s latest survey closed, only 8% of 775 respondents felt “Very Comfortable” returning, while 42%
were “Not at All Comfortable.” Despite so much outreach to stakeholders by our superintendent and BOE – twenty-two public meetings at last count- teachers fear that they are returning to an unsafe environment with a plan that is inherently flawed.

While GEA appreciates the enormity of the administration’s task and understands how hard it is to build a plan around moving targets, it is past time for a Reality Check.

Ventilation, air filtration, and/or air sanitization: Even though COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and regardless of assurances given by the dministration (8/7/2020 Community Q&A), teachers do not believe
that the ventilation in their schools is adequate. This is especially true at GHS, with its long history of HVAC problems and windows that DO NOT open. We understand that updating HVAC systems is a long-term project requiring a Marshall Plan level of commitment and state funding, but short term actions such as purchasing stand-alone air filtration units or UV lights for classrooms have not been pursued. Teachers are looking for evidence that the air quality in their school has been measured and optimized for a global pandemic. They are not interested in being part of the “experiment of opening schools.”

Social Distancing: The District has various plans for maintaining social distancing in our classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, and on school grounds, but teachers are doubtful about whether these plans are workable. For instance, there is no scientific evidence that the proposed three-foot spacing with masks is sufficient to prevent transmission of Covid-19. In fact, a training video being used in the Stamford Public Schools (Vector Solutions
TM) clearly states, “A cloth face cover is not a substitute for social distancing.” Add to that the prospect of maskless lunch periods and other mask breaks, the natural tendency of children and teens (and adults) to gather in close proximity to each other, limited opportunities to be outside, sobering news from around the country, and the phrase “where possible,” the result is a lot of sleepless nights for teachers.

Teachers are worried not only about the safety of everyone in their buildings, they are concerned about their families, their students’ families, and the greater community, knowing that a spike in COVID is likely to have
the greatest impact on the most vulnerable.

A Brave New Teaching Model: Last spring, teachers had to turn on a dime during the shut down and transition to remote teaching. They did their best. This fall they will be reinventing their craft again to deliver instruction using a model that has never been used in Greenwich. This “HyFlex” model involves teaching as many as three groups simultaneously at GHS – live cohort, virtual cohort, and full-time remote learners.

Regardless of the progress in GPS Remote Summer School, the hybrid plan is untried and untested, with legal, technical, logistical and pedagogical questions pinging among teachers, with no clear or satisfactory answers to be found.

To paraphrase Geoffrey Chaucer’s Clerk, “And gladly would we learn, and gladly teach.”

But the expectation that this new model will be a seamless return to Greenwich excellence is magical thinking. To quote a GEA member, “How does anybody who’s ever taught in a classroom for one day think this will work?”

Meanwhile, elementary teachers are being challenged to recreate the classroom magic that they left behind in March with a model that was abandoned long ago because it was not good for kids – desks in rows, facing in one direction, minimal moving around, teacher at the front. They know that rebuilding a sense of school community and addressing SEL needs will be paramount during the first weeks back, even as the administration has promised that the curriculum will be delivered in full.

Greenwich teachers are deeply committed to their students, to their schools, and to their profession. They want nothing more than to see their students in person, under conditions that are safe for everyone.

With three days to go, they deserve evidence-based answers. Without them, the Return to School Plan is incomplete.