Hampden County COVID cases trigger switch per teacher’s union contract as renegotiations take place to bring students back in school quickly
SOUTHWICK – Parents had mixed reactions to the announcement that Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional Schools will switch to fully remote learning starting Nov. 9.
The announcement was made Nov. 5 via email from Superintendent Jennifer Willard who said earlier this week that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Southwick teacher’s union stated that if Hampden County’s positive COVID rate rises above 3%, district schools would shift online. The rate was 3.74% at the time of the announcement. Willard also said that they were renegotiating the MOU.
“Since the MOU was executed, additional guidance has been received from DESE and the parties have agreed to resume negotiations,” she wrote. “We are optimistic that a new agreement will be reached that will utilize metrics that are more directly reflective of our school community. Execution of a new agreement could alter the timeline for reopening. We strongly believe that there is no replacement for in-person learning and the connections between students, teachers and peers. Please know we are working as fast as we can to once again provide in-person learning.”
Some parents took to social media to voice their opinions, many of which were disappointed with the switch. A Facebook post about the announcement on The Southwick Community Forum included comments lamenting the switch because it is “sad” for students. One poster said the situation was part of the “chaos of 2020.” Most comments noted that teachers are doing a great job this year, whether they are teaching in-person or remotely.
“I am happy for the amount of time my son got to enjoy in person learning,” said Christine Greco. “The school and employees are doing an awesome job and I am very confident that once negotiations are made they will be going back fairly fast. The students are a lot more resilient than everyone gives them credit for.”
Audrey Farsnworth-Herbert said she chose to have her children, in grades two and 10, fully remote from the start.
“I was worried about my 7-year-old and how she would do on the computer but, it’s been great,” said Farnsworth-Herbert. “The teachers have been amazing keeping them on task and giving them breaks to get up and move around. Only a few occasions where I had to help and that was mostly towards the beginning. They now do their school day 99% on their own and only time I’m needed is lunchtime. It’s been a great experience for us and the teachers have been total rockstars!”
Willard said the district has the best interest of students at the forefront of all decisions.
“I have never been so proud to be part of a school district that prioritizes what is best for students,” Willard wrote Thursday. “Our District has the highest percentage of students participating in in-person learning in Western Massachusetts. It was a collaborative effort to open schools in early September and in order to do so, we needed to create a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the District and the Teachers’ Union to ensure that safety measures were put in place as we reopened our doors during a pandemic. As we were ahead of other districts, we crafted our MOA with the best available data at that time, which was on county positivity metrics.”
Willard noted that the temporary shift to fully remote learning would be “an additional hardship as you juggle work with supervising your children at home.”
Families in need of technology assistance should contact their child’s school and devices will be distributed Nov. 9 for anyone who notified the district that their child needs a device.
Willard said the teachers are prepared for the switch.
“I just want to assure you, our staff spent the summer and early fall developing plans and receiving training on remote learning, Microsoft Office and Zoom,” Willard said. “Teachers will use a combination of best practices, including live, whole class instruction, teacher-led small group work, and independent student work to help keep your children engaged.”
Willard said families will receive specific information about schedules, assignments and expectations from teachers and asked parents for help.
“We need your help in making this a smooth transition,” wrote Willard. “There is no doubt that our students will be disappointed. It is important for them to know that we are eager to return to our school buildings as soon as an agreement can be reached and it is safe to do so. We will be updating you regularly on our plans and are asking that you reach out to your teacher or principal with questions and concerns.
“We appreciate your partnership as we navigate this unprecedented year.”
The district is currently following a hybrid model, with students in grades 5-12 in school two days per week and three days remote. Some students with high needs, as well as students up to grade four, attend in-person every day. Some students opted for fully remote learning this year.