Opinion: Darien’s teachers’ union expresses concerns with district’s reopening plan
The following statement was delivered during public comment at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, July 28. They are reprinted here with the speaker’s permission.
Good evening, members of the Board of Education and Darien Public Schools Stakeholders.
My name is Joslyn DeLancey, president of the Darien Education Association and fifth grade teacher at Tokeneke School. I am speaking tonight on behalf of the teachers and to advocate for the best interest of our students and staff. I’ll start my remarks by saying that there is no group of people more eager and hopeful to return to normalcy and building based, in person instruction than the teachers of the Darien Public Schools.
It saddens me and all of us to know that, even with a return to the buildings, our instruction and daily lives will be far from normal. We’ve taken time to grieve the loss of what we know to be the best practices for teaching and learning. We’ve said goodbye to the comfy stools, warm rugs, book shelves, and other things that have made our rooms unique and special places for our students to inquire, problem solve, and learn.
We’ve come to terms that learning will not be held in workshops or partnerships, we’ll be wearing masks, and unable to work with our colleagues and students in ways that feel comfortable. We understand that we will have to be flexible, creative, and on our toes. We know all of these things and are on board to come back - but only under conditions that are as safe as possible, and that allow for us to provide the best possible teaching and learning under the circumstances.
This being said, the DEA has some major questions and concerns about our current plan to go back to the buildings with 100% participation and daily attendance. While we understand that Central Services and building based administrators have been working hours on end to come up with a plan that brings all students back safely, we have some questions regarding how some aspects of this plan will be carried out. Class sizes of over 20 students in some buildings is one safety concern as well as the fact that the desks will only be a minimum of 3 feet apart, guidelines still push for 6 feet.
We worry how cohorting will work to keep special education staff, other service providers, music, library media specialists, art, and physical education teachers safe moving from room to room. While we understand the spacing limitations at the high school, having students leaving mid-day to have lunch and then come back into the building concerns us as well. There are many more safety concerns including rooms with no windows, PPE access and protocols, and what actually would call for closing schools. Now that Governor Lamont has changed his mandate about reopening, I’m hoping that the district can figure out some more creative and safer options for getting back into the building, even if that involves a hybrid model or remote learning.
Aside from the physical safety, another pressing issue is the district’s decision to promote live streaming as the primary option for students and families who feel it is safer to follow a path of remote learning. I can assure you that the teachers do not feel that live streaming is the best practice.
Please keep in mind that live streaming is not the same as the live instruction that was provided during eLearning. Live streaming is a camera placed in the classroom and your child would be watching the classroom from the security of your home for the duration of the school day.
The DEA has many concerns on how this best engages children in learning.
Is this an interactive live stream or is this just a feed that students can watch? If it is interactive, how do teachers manage both a group of students in the classroom and ones who are at home? If we’re teaching with masks on, how will students who are watching the feed be able to hear or understand us?
How do you protect the privacy of the other students in the actual classroom, especially students who receive services for IEPs and 504s? Who has access to our feed? If students are being videotaped throughout the day, how might that hinder their ability to take academic risks?
We have many more questions and would like to have a broader dialogue about this with administration and parents, but since I only have three minutes, and I’m pretty sure you can mute me, I’ll end with this.
We strongly believe that remote learners would get a better and stronger education if they were paired in remote cohorts and assigned teachers who would be able to teach remotely (at times live from their computers) and give them the attention and access to learning they deserve. We want to be able to provide our students with the highest quality education possible and also keep everyone healthy and safe.
We don’t believe the current plans allow us to achieve that goal. I know that if we sit down and work on these plans together, we can come up with a plan that gets us there. When the teachers are safe and feeling supported, we will be able to keep the students safe, feeling supported, and learning.