Aspen teachers group digs in on reopening plan, says 45% of staff considering ‘taking leave or resigning’ |

Aspen teachers group digs in on reopening plan, says 45% of staff considering ‘taking leave or resigning’

An Aspen School District bus parked in front of Aspen Middle School.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

On a night the Aspen School District superintendent presented the newest plan to reopen the schools Oct. 26, a teachers group countered with a petition of demands that, if not met, could result in some faculty members leaving their jobs.

That is what Marnie White, speaking on behalf of the Aspen Education Association, suggested when saying that “45 percent of staff is considering taking leave or resigning” under the plan Superintendent David Baugh described to the Board of Education at its meeting Monday.

The AEA’s petition was presented to Baugh and the five members of the Board of Education roughly 10 to 15 minutes before the beginning of the meeting that went nearly four-and-a-half hours due to talk primarily driven by repercussions from the pandemic that closed classrooms across the country in March. White said the petition had 169 signatures, though board member Katy Frisch questioned whether they were all actually teachers’ names.

After a first quarter of online learning, the ASD plans to open classrooms in its middle and high schools Oct. 26 under a hybrid model, with students alternating their in-person learning with remote learning though weekly cohorts.

The elementary school started a two-day cohort system Sept. 8, and it would reopen fully Oct. 26 under the latest plan. Elementary students will remain restricted to their class groups with interaction with students outside their cohorts not permitted.

The school district’s reopening plan, as Baugh said, is informed by guidelines from local, state and federal health and educational resources including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Pitkin County Health.

As well, board members pointed out the district already addressed some of the very demands the petition made, such as the claim that teachers haven’t had a fair amount of influence in the process to reopen the schools.

“To suggest that we haven’t had the teachers’ or AEA voices in this is very disingenuous,” said Frisch, noting school-reopening taskforces of 50 people that included staff, teachers, parents and students.

As district leaders and teachers try to tackle the issue of regression among the students, online school has resulted in “children who are not learning, who are suffering great mental health consequences, and we need to have a community that can speak to that and do something about it,” Frisch said.

White, however, said educators didn’t have much of a say and have felt disrespected and under-appreciated during the process.

“While we understand that these are unprecedented and trying times, staff deserve a voice in determining what our working conditions will be,” said White, a music teacher at the elementary school. She also has children in the district. “There should be clear, science-based protocols in place that determine when it is safe for schools to open, to be hybrid, or when it becomes necessary to return to virtual learning.”

The petition demands the following issues are addressed:

• All individuals are able to maintain consistent social distancing of at least 6 feet;

• The creation of “a written public plan for COVID-19 protocols, especially regarding safety practices, and the transition between different learning environments, with clear scientific markers for change between learning models”;

• The reopening plan must be created with “AEA leadership and membership to ensure educator and staff voice is heard.”

The petition also demanded that the school district stay on a hybrid schedule until it fully reopens; Baugh has publicly mentioned Nov. 30 as the date to fully reopen the schools if health trends cooperate.

“Currently, the burden of weighing health and safety against education and employment is falling on individual families, teachers and staff,” the petition states. “This is the opposite of safe or equitable decision-making. We demand leadership from our school district’s leaders. Prioritize safe and equitable school openings now.”

Board member Jonathan Nickell said the district is following recommendations set by public health experts and “isn’t in any way violating the guidelines that have been set.”

Baugh said the district is making the school as safe as it possibly can. The district has 12,000 masks, 400 face shields and 400 Plexiglass shields, for example. It also is on schedule to have work on the $300,000 upgrades to HVAC systems at the campus’ four school buildings done this week.

Some teachers, however, said they lacked faith that the school district has their backs and that they have the proper training to adjust on the fly when cohorts are disrupted because of a positive test.

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