Summit County teachers anxiously await decision on school year plan
KEYSTONE — As Summit School District officials are making the final adjustments to the “return to learn” plan, teachers are feeling especially anxious.
According to a survey by the Summit County Education Association, many teachers are feeling high anxiety ahead of the new school year. The association surveyed 133 of its 235 members. A little over one-third of respondents said their anxiety was at four out of five going into the new school year.
The Summit education association chapter’s survey results come just a week after the Colorado Education Association released a survey of its members and delivered a petition to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, signed by 13,457 educators. The petition demands that educators have a voice in the decisions made by school districts and asks that the state release requirements rather than recommendations on how schools should reopen, according to a news release from the association.
In the statewide survey, which had about 10,000 responses, 78% said they’d be willing to refuse to go to work if health and safety concerns were not addressed and protective measures weren’t implemented, according to the release.
The reasoning behind the anxiety in Summit County varies, said Liz Waddick, a Spanish teacher at Summit Middle School and one of the three presidents of the chapter. For some, the anxiety stems from not knowing what to expect ahead of the district’s final decision on reopening to be announced Friday, July 31.
“(Teachers) tend to feel less comfortable coming back at the current timeline, and I think that’s a big stressor,” she said.
Right now, the district’s plan is to have teachers come back to work Aug. 13 with school starting Aug. 20. Those dates could change with the district’s final decision on reopening. If they don’t, teachers are worried about the turnaround, Waddick said.
“That leaves a really small window of preparation of our classroom for hybrid, of our home for online, whatever that might look like,” she said.
On Friday, the district will announce a start date and model for classes. According to the survey, 85% of teachers prefer a later start date, and the majority of teachers — around 36%, Waddick said — would prefer to go all online rather than in person or hybrid at the start of the school year. There was only a 4% margin between people who wanted to go online and those who wanted to do a hybrid model, however.
Once the final decision on reopening is made, there is some question as to how immunocompromised and high-risk teachers as well as teachers who live with high-risk individuals will do their jobs safely in a hybrid or in-person model. Of the 133 survey responses, 26% said they are immunocompromised or live with someone who is at a high risk.
At a school board meeting Thursday, July 23, Director of Human Resources Trisha Forman said the district will be approaching those teachers on a case-by-case basis to develop a plan that works for them.
“Right now, what we’re doing is we are working to identify who those individuals are so that we can have individual conversations to better understand the scenarios that they are in so that we can work to determine what might make the most sense for next school year for those individuals,” Forman said at the meeting.
Board member Gloria Quintero said it will be important for the district to have a process that treats equally all people who are high risk or immunocompromised.
“To me, it just seems very difficult for one person to make these decisions and be really equitable to everybody depending on what everybody’s saying,” Quintero said in the meeting. “You can see me doing tons of things, and I’m immunocompromised. It’s really difficult for you to see (why) unless you are a medical provider.”
Forman said the district will be asking for documentation to prove that people are immunocompromised. Waddick said that while some teachers who are high risk are concerned about the upcoming school year, they appreciate what the district is doing to approach that issue.
“I don’t necessarily see any other way for (the district) to work on the complications that come with this,” Waddick said. “There’s not really another way besides one-to-one. We will be anxious to hear how that process really holds up.”
The other major concern for teachers surrounds child care, Waddick said. As every school is likely to be dealing with different start times and hybrid days, teachers with children are worried about how that will work with their own schedules.
Right now, the school plans to have buses running with a limit of 25 students. That transportation schedule likely would mean staggered start times.
According to the survey, 65.4% of teachers said they’re concerned about having care for their children on days when the kids are not in school or on a hybrid model.
“I have a second grader at Dillon Valley Elementary,” Waddick said. “How do I make sure that he gets to school when his start time is later than mine, and we won’t have buses? I also have a 4-year-old who has to get to day care, and our day care is now starting later because they have to clean. … So those kinds of stressors are for sure impacting teachers.”
Waddick said the association met with Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. and other district leaders to discuss the results Monday, July 27. Smith was unavailable to comment for this story.
During the meeting, district officials took the time to listen to the concerns, Waddick said.
“Teachers are definitely appreciative of having a seat at the table, or at least being able to voice our concerns to our administration and to our board,” Waddick said.
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As the Summit School District prepares for all online instruction, adults are focusing their attention on the health and well-being of the students.