In what’s arguably the eleventh-hour of planning for school reentry this fall, the Bedford Teachers Association has thrown its weight behind an open letter to Westchester, Putnam, Orange and Rockland Counties from the leadership of over 50 teacher and staff unions.
When the letter was initially released on Aug. 14, by the Lakeland Federation of Teachers, it was not signed by BTA President Michael Groarke. On Aug. 16, the BTA reposted the open letter on its own website and social media with an updated list of signatures, including that of its president, Mr. Groarke.
The strongly worded letter takes issue with what it alleged are a series of false assumptions made on behalf of administrators regarding reopening.
These assumptions, the letter maintained, include “a well-behaved student body that will follow all directives and maintain masks and social distancing, even during hall passing” and the ability “to hire enough leave replacements, substitutes, and monitors to supervise students in the next three weeks.”
“This will not occur,” the letter continued, “when schools reopen with the potential of being understaffed, it will make an already unsafe situation even worse.”
It goes on to list a series of health and safety measures districts should adopt to ensure in-person instruction begins safely, including: building-wide HVAC systems; rapid COVID-19 testing with a 24-hour turnaround; and a 100% virtual option for not just students, but also teachers who are immunocompromised. The letter concluded that “districts need to strive to meet these expectations.”
Unstated in the letter was what would happen if the districts fail to implement these measures. There was no threat, for instance, of a slowdown or walkout by teachers and other school workers in the event districts fell short of meeting these requirements. Even so, the letter raised serious concerns among community members about whether the district was on the same page with its staff regarding the complex reopening plan.
Bedford Central School District has been holding a series of town halls for school community members to ask questions about reopening. At the town hall held Aug. 18, Fox Lane Middle School Principal Susan Ostrofsky assured parents that every lead principal had subsequently scheduled and held meetings with their staff. She also said BCSD Superintendent Joel Adelberg held an “all district staff and faculty meeting” that morning to address concerns and hear what teachers and staff are thinking.
“We also encourage teachers and staff to send us emails or communicate with us any kinds of concerns,” Ms. Ostrofsky added.
In response to a parent’s question of whether the BTA agreed to the reopening plan as presented, Fox Lane High School Principal Brett Miller responded by saying administrators have “been working very closely at the district level and at the building levels with our BTA and our schedules do align with BTA contracts.”
He went on to say, “We’d like to thank them for their willingness to partner and support throughout the process,” adding, “teachers, and all our staff for that matter, faculty and staff, have been incredibly professional throughout this process. They’ve been transparent, they’ve been openly communicating.”