‘Only When It’s Safe:’ Teachers Across Cape and Islands Demand Safe Return to Schools
Teachers across the Cape and Islands say they want to get back into the classroom, but not yet.
At 11 demonstrations across the region on Wednesday, scores of teachers called for "healthy and safe working and learning conditions in public schools." Remote learning, they said, is the only way to protect students, teachers, and families against the spread of COVID-19.
“Ideally we’d be able to start in the buildings and know that they’re safe. We don’t know that yet,” said Sandwich organizer and English teacher and Chelsea Craig. “That’s why the ‘only when it’s safe’ hashtag is being used because every district has their own demons to face.”
Still, she emphasized, teachers want to get back to work.
“We want to remotely teach them, and we have really strong remote plans,” Craig said.
In Sandwich, more than 40 teachers and faculty gathered in the rain outside the Henry T. Wing School with signs that read “remote learning is the safest way” and “only when it’s safe.”
There, Cathy Lemay, who’s been teaching for 32 years, said they’re concerned about hybrid learning models that don’t have much information about indoor air circulation and HVAC systems, or how children can move safely from the bus, to the classroom, to the bathroom, and back.
“How does the bathroom work? There are two sinks for 180 kids,” she pointed out, listing off worries about how she could sanitize hall passes and pencil sharpeners between uses while still trying to teach a group of 15 10-year-olds. “All those little details.”
Hybrid learning models are planned for Barnstable, Dennis-Yarmouth, Falmouth, Mashpee, Nantucket, Sandwich, Nauset Public Schools, and the Old Rochester Regional School District.
Martha’s Vineyard, Truro, Provincetown, Wareham, Bourne, and Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis plan to operate remotely or mostly-remotely this fall.
Ann Fifield, an English teacher at Dartmouth High School, said after months of practice last spring and training this summer, the remote model won’t necessarily lead to any lack of learning or teaching.
“I, myself, would meet with kids on Zoom at 9:00 at night if they couldn’t make a class meeting because they were working at a drug store, for example,” she said. “And I’m happy to do that. If it keeps them safe, keeps my family safe, I’m OK to do that.
Protests were organized by a local chapter of the Massachusetts Educator Action Network, and took place in every region across the state.
Teachers unions are still working closely with superintendents as schools finalize their re-opening plans and the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force is working now on pop-up testing protocols for schools.
“We’re talking about life and death here for a lot of teachers and families. And if you look at the spread of virus in the schools that have already opened,” Fifield said, “it’s really scary.”