Schools

Andover teachers refused to enter school buildings over safety concerns. District officials called it an ‘illegal work stoppage.’

“It is simply not safe at this time for students and staff to be working together in crowded settings inside these buildings.”

Teachers in Andover refused to enter district buildings Monday for their first day of work, citing ongoing concerns about the safety of school buildings for hybrid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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The Andover Education Association issued a statement on Saturday announcing teachers would refuse to enter school buildings, saying educators had “overwhelmingly voted” in favor of starting the school year fully remote with a phased-in return to in-person instruction to follow.

According to the association, members voted to take action Monday, the first day of 10 days of in-person professional development for teachers, deciding to engage in a “workplace safety action” in response to what they called a “lack of good-faith bargaining over how to maintain the health and safety of educators and students” by district leaders for reopening schools.

Andover schools plan to start the school year with a hybrid learning plan, with each student attending in-person two full-days per week. The first day of school for students is Sept. 16.

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“It is simply not safe at this time for students and staff to be working together in crowded settings inside these buildings,” Matthew Back, president of the Andover Education Association, said in a statement over the weekend. “Members have decided they will not risk the health and safety of students, staff, or the community by walking into buildings that for decades have been underfunded, understaffed, and poorly maintained while a global pandemic continues to affect Essex County, the state, and our country.”

We want to go back! Districts all around us are doing PD remotely. We are not refusing to work. We simply want to negotiate a safe and fair return that includes educator input.

Posted by Andover Education Association on Saturday, August 29, 2020

In a statement Monday, Nicole Kieser, director of communications for Andover Public Schools, said it was “unfortunate” that “some” teachers  “did not report to school buildings for their first day of work.”

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“Today’s action by the Andover Education Association (AEA) shows a disregard for our families and students, who have confidence in the district’s work to ensure our buildings are safe for our students and staff,” she said. “Our families overwhelmingly chose the hybrid model for their children to return to school this fall. The AEA’s actions appear to align more with the state’s union leadership than with the needs of our students, especially where the administration and school committee representatives have provided the AEA with reliable information that all of our school buildings are safe and ready to be occupied. The Andover Education Association might believe this is a ‘workplace safety action.’ It is, in fact, considered an illegal work stoppage.”

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Kieser said the Andover School Committee will meet in an executive session Monday afternoon to “discuss options for litigation” in response to the association’s action, with professional development in school buildings to continue Tuesday.

Andover isn’t the only district where teachers have taken a firm stance against the reopening plans settled on by school leaders. The Sharon Teachers Association announced last week that educators would only begin work remotely to start the school year, in opposition to district plans for implementing a hybrid learning model to begin the year. Students are expected to start school on Sept. 16.

“Before any students or staff are allowed back into the buildings for any length of time, the district must answer many questions about the condition of these buildings as well as specify how those in the schools would be kept safe,” Bernadette Murphy, president of the Sharon Teachers Association said in a statement last week. “At this time, there are no assurances that anyone using the public schools can be reasonably assured that the COVID-19 risk is manageable.”

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As of mid-August, about 70 percent of the school districts in the state had settled on plans that brought students back into classrooms at least part time. The Massachusetts Teachers Association has been advocating for fully remote learning, stating members of the union will not return to classrooms until their districts meet certain criteria, including demonstrating that school facilities are safe to hold classes.

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