Summit School District works to meet teachers’ needs as start of school year nears |

Summit School District works to meet teachers’ needs as start of school year nears

Silverthorne Elementary teacher Liz McFarland high-fives a student on the first day of school, August 2017. As the 2020 school year approaches, teachers are sharing their needs and wants for the new year.
Hugh Carey /

Editor’s note: the language of this story has been updated to more accurately reflect the survey results.

FRISCO — As they prepare to enter into the life of a frontline worker, Summit School District teachers are making their voices heard. 

At a school board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 13, Summit County Education Association leaders and the district’s HR representative Trisha Forman each presented a staff member and teacher survey, which reflect the needs and desires of Summit County’s educators. 

Both surveys showed that staff members are split on how they feel about remote learning. In the survey conducted by the district, which had 454 responses, the largest group of staff members (42.5%) felt uncomfortable with a return to in person learning. When asked about blended learning, more staff (48.7%) said they felt “somewhat comfortable.”

When asked which model of learning they prefer, staff members in the district survey were split in thirds, with a small plurality being most comfortable with remote learning.

The education association survey, which had 141 responses and included only teachers in the union, showed that teachers were fairly evenly split on the current return to work plan. The largest group — 38.3% — said they like the district’s current plan to return to a hybrid model, while 37.6% said they would prefer remote learning for all students. 

The union members did agree on various work conditions they would like to see in the new school year. The conditions are as follows:

  • All sick leave related to the novel coronavirus is paid by the district without using employee’s personal leave
  • District covers all COVID-related medical bills for employees, including tests for the virus
  • District purchases personal protective equipment for all students and staff
  • The district has a social distancing plan that allows for students and staff to maintain a 6-feet separation
  • Teachers have the ability to work remotely without using sick leave if they are required to quarantine after being exposed to the virus
  • All staff meetings and parent teacher conferences should be held virtually
  • Child care is provided to staff in the hybrid model
  • There is testing and tracing in place for the community 
  • A robust action plan for parents, students and staff who don’t follow health and safety guidelines

“The clear consensus among members of the Summit County Education Association rests in those conditions,” association co-president Liz Waddick said at the meeting. “That we feel safe, that educators and staff feel safe in their buildings and safe with the plan and have the support around them to feel successful.”

The district has already started working to address some of the concerns. The Family First Coronavirus Response Act requires the district to provide paid sick leave and expanded medical and family leave for reasons specific to the virus. The act is only in place through Dec. 31, but the district plans to continue providing the services, Forman said. 

Waddick said one of the major concerns for the union has to do with teachers who don’t feel comfortable returning to school because they are either at a high risk from contracting the virus or they live with someone who is considered high risk. 

Around 13% of the district’s staff identified themselves as high risk. Forman said the district is going to work with those staff members on a case-by-case basis.

“Sometimes folks want to just give us a heads up that they do have an underlying medical condition,” Forman said. “Sometimes we’re having conversations in terms of reasonable accommodations to increase their comfort level as part of the return-to-learn plan. Then sometimes folks are requesting online work.”

If the district isn’t able to find a solution for those staff members who aren’t comfortable with going back to school, they have the option to take a leave of absence for a year or retire, Waddick said. 

“When we look at the large number of staff members that are concerned and frightened, we have to make sure that we are listening to them,” she said. “We as an association are deeply concerned about the consequences for the district of losing these teachers to a leave of absence for one year.”

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