Teachers' union wants safe classes: Culpeper Education Association weighs in on back-to-school debate

Culpeper County Education Association President Allie Cline and Vice President A.J. Beck.

While Culpeper County Public Schools quiz parents on whether they want their children to return to classes either virtually, in-person or with some hybrid next month, the local teachers’ union is weighing in as well.

“We keep saying our top priority is the health and safety of our teachers, our education support professionals, or ESPs like our bus drivers, cafeteria workers; the health and safety of them, our students, their families and our community as a whole,” said Allie Cline, a fourth-grade teacher at Emerald Hill Elementary School and president of the Culpeper County Education Association.

The seven-member Culpeper County School Board could not reach a consensus on July 13 after being presented with several options by a 75-member task force for returning to classes next month. Instead, the School Board told Superintendent Anthony Brads and his staff to get a formal notice of intent from parents as to whether they want their children in class four days a week, two days a week or all-virtual.

After it gets the results on Monday, July 27, the School Board will make its decision. The board will meet at 6 p.m. at Floyd T. Binns Middle School. Any decision has to go to the State Board of Education by Aug. 3 for approval.

Teachers are supposed to begin returning to their classrooms on Aug. 10 and classes are scheduled to resume Aug. 24.

The reopening task force’s presentation on July 13 stated that 591 staff members responded, and 27.1% said they were very comfortable returning to work with safety precautions in place (on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being very comfortable), with another 23.5% giving a yes to No. 2, and another 26.4% percent saying yes to No. 3.

Other than obvious safety concerns, planning and preparation time was identified as a major need for teachers, according to the task force, with staff noting that delivery of online learning takes a great deal of preparation.

“I was invited to the task force meeting and I attended that,” Cline noted. “I did not stand up and speak from the floor. Most of our member concerns were brought up anyway without me having to stand up.”

Kline said the CCEA did not ask its 450 members if they thought it was safe to return to in-class learning. “We did not ask our members that,” she said. “We did send out a survey and asked about concerns and that’s how we know health and safety is a top concern. Again, it goes to safety, having enough PPEs in place.

“We’re not sending out another survey right now; we know the school board is creating [one],” Cline added.

Of the task force’s survey of 2,899 parents, 42% were uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with traditional face-to-face instruction with some social-distancing in place; and 45.6 were either comfortable or very comfortable.

As for remote learning, with students staying home, 38% of parents told the task force they were uncomfortable or very uncomfortable and 46.3% were comfortable or very comfortable.

“I think as teachers, we all want to get back to the classroom and teach our students,” said A.J. Beck, a special education teacher at Eastern View High School and vice president of the CCEA. “Yes, we’d like to get back into that classroom but we need to make sure that all safety precautions are taken.

“Our members are also concerned with having enough planning time to implement whatever decision the School Board makes,” he said. “Waiting until July 27 to hold the next meeting and come up with a plan, and teachers expected to start back Aug. 10, the membership is worried about do we have enough time to plan and execute effective instruction, given we don’t know what direction we are going. They’re concerned about that.”

However, Beck said that he appreciates the School Board asking administration to survey all parents and get them on record on their intent to have their students learn in-class or virtually.

“I will say I am appreciative of them looking at every option,” he said. “They listed several options at the meeting on [July 13], and I am grateful that they took some time to look at the data from the surveys and try to come up with whole different options to meet the needs of this community.”

Asked if she’s prepared to go back to face-to-face teaching as long as things are safe and the administration has a plan, Cline said “Without putting my own personal feelings into that, I’m not sure I can answer that without talking as an individual, and I want to be here representing the members.”

 

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