Ryan Normandin, math teacher

While many districts have struggled with the reopening of schools this fall, Newton’s reopening plan has been particularly disastrous. Why?

This summer, families and teachers were left in the dark as to the district’s process for reopening. In August, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller lied to her constituents by claiming that teachers had been involved in the creation of the reopening plan. In fact, the Newton Teachers Association (NTA) developed its own plan, which was then summarily ignored by the district. 

The district’s original plan established a “separate but equal” education system with the Distance Learning Academy (DLA) and the split-hybrid model, where DLA teachers were not even guaranteed to be Newton educators. Families were given only a few days to choose between two options that contained little to no details, and teachers were forced to state only whether they were able or unable to return based on narrow constraints set by the district.

Teachers and parents alike were victims of Newton’s failure to consider their voices in the rushed, incomplete and inequitable plan. The School Committee modified the plan at the recommendation of Superintendent David Fleishman, but the reason they gave was not one of the actual problems with the plan, but staffing.

Despite having polled teachers much earlier in the summer — meaning that the district had excellent knowledge of their staffing numbers for the fall — Fleishman scapegoated his own teachers rather than admit to Newton’s mistakes.

Contrary to what the district would have people believe, teachers, parents and students all want to return. However, the district has failed to implement common-sense measures to ensure the safety of its students and teachers, instead forcing many educators back into unsafe buildings.

1. Surveillance testing: surveillance testing is regular testing of students and staff. Some claim that Newton’s low (though rising for three months) COVID-19 numbers justify a return to the buildings. However, they fail to consider that, without regular testing of staff and students, even one infection could spread like wildfire. Surrounding districts have teamed up with the Newton-Wellesley Hospital to provide surveillance testing, but Newton refuses to do so.

2. An independent heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) assessment: a lynchpin of a safe return is a highly functioning HVAC system. It is vital that there are enough windows that actually open and ventilation that actually removes used air and adds fresh air. Though the district has insisted that the buildings satisfy these requirements, teachers have repeatedly reported problems. As relayed during a recent School Committee meeting, David Stickney, the director of facilities, was inspecting a problematic office reported by a teacher. When the teacher asked whether he would work in the room, he replied, “Not all day.”

The problem is not that teachers do not want to return. The problem is that the City of Newton will not do what is necessary to ensure that everyone can return safely. #OnlyWhenItsSafe

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