When the Region 12 Board of Education held a meeting earlier this week to vote on the district’s reopening plan, teachers showed up in force.
“I put out a call to all of our members to join the meeting, and more than half of our fewer than 90 members showed up,” says local president Tara Flaherty. “With all of the work that membership has been doing on committees that are working out reopening plans, I wanted to make sure that we show up and let the Board of Education know we’re keeping an eye on things.”
Ahead of the meeting, Flaherty, who also serves as an NEA Director for CEA, sent out the Shepaug Valley Education Association logo to members and asked them to use the logo as their Zoom profile picture.
“It was our way of having our own little rally in Region 12,” says Flaherty. “If felt very empowering. I’m proud of my membership for showing up.”
This week’s meeting was the first the Board of Education for Region 12, which consists of Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington, had held in some time. The Board voted on the district’s reopening plan as well as on some other safety measures for students and staff.
“We’ve had a couple of students test positive in our district recently,” Flaherty says. “Teachers are concerned about safety.”
Though many neighboring districts have adopted a hybrid model, Region 12 voted for in-person learning—leaving teachers who live in other districts scrambling to find child and elder care.
“I have teachers who don’t have access to daycare, and they’re going to have to go out on FMLA—that’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Flaherty says. “It’s great that some other districts are providing daycare for school staff but our district is not doing that. In a small district, we’re stuck with what we can get.”
Flaherty says the SVEA is not 100 percent behind the district’s reopening plan. “We do want to go back to work and be with the kids, but a lot of us are concerned about safety.”
She adds, “Our teachers aren’t really concerned about themselves, they’re more worried about what they could bring home to their families.”
One policy allows mask breaks indoors, which concerns SVEA members.
“We want mask breaks to take place outside,” Flaherty says. “As someone with asthma, I’m not having kids take masks off in my classroom.”
Just 30 minutes into the Board meeting, Board of Education members and the superintendent took a mask break. “Because of changes to their schedules, some teachers won’t get a mask break all day,” Flaherty says.
Teachers are also concerned that class sizes are going to be larger, due to an influx of students whose families have summer homes in the area.
Teachers are pleased that schools will be conducting temperature checks for students and that, as a one-to-one district, every student has access to a device.
“We’re a district with a lot of money, and, as much as we’re doing, I feel we could be doing more,” Flaherty says.
She adds that Covid is exposing, more than ever, the deep rifts between districts that are better funded and those that are not. “The haves and have nots are very evident to me.”
While class sizes in Region 12 are larger than they have been, at 20-24 students, Flaherty says she knows colleagues teaching in other districts around the state that are going back to classes with 28 or more students.
“We need to be safe in our buildings,” Flaherty says. “It’s important that the Board of Education knows that we’re paying attention and can and will mobilize when we need to.”