Jacob Frantz

Queen Creek Education Association Petition on Schools Reopening

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Jacob Frantz
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To Superintendent Berry and the Queen Creek Unified School District Governing Board,

The Queen Creek Education Association, as well as the teachers and community members who choose to sign here, would like to thank you for your work addressing the issues that we face for this school year. However there are some issues with the latest plan that we would like to address publicly.

While we appreciate the most recent announcement that teachers and staff would be allowed to resign their positions by July 14th without liability, we do not consider it compassionate or necessarily legal. Whether this action is being interpreted under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it is not acceptable to create a work environment that ranges from hazardous to deadly based on the precondition that “People were allowed to leave if they don’t like it.” This letter is intended to express the issues with this position as well as discuss other concerns that have as of yet been unaddressed by district leadership.

Moreover, while a week of notice on whether or not to leave our job is considerate, it is not reasonable. We simply do not have the information necessary to make that choice at this time. The official plan is to reopen with limited protections that are effective against COVID-19 in place on August 17th (or in the case of our pre-schools July 22nd). So far the only dates that we have received that were actionable have been those we have received from the state and until we have those dates we simply do not have reliable and specific information on which to base our decision.

Most importantly, aside from the legal concerns surrounding the ADA and OSHA, is the fact that we are only released from contract “when a suitable replacement is found.” This phrase renders the entire offer essentially null and void. Many of us distinctly recall a situation where a teacher has been held to a one-year contract for over two years despite paying the liquidated damages fee. Suitable candidates were found for other identical contracts, yet somehow the district was unable to find one to fill this specific position. Based on this previous choice by district to willfully punish teachers to the fullest extent possible, it would be unwise for any teacher in this district to trust that this situation wouldn’t repeat itself.

Additionally, we do not know what our plan will be when we return to the classroom. While neighboring districts have developed and communicated contingencies and plans of action if certain probable situations arise, QCUSD has chosen to not share these preparations. Even our current situation of a state-wide temporary closure left us scrambling since no plan had been developed despite this being a likely possibility. In the probable event that schools will be forced to use a hybrid model, the faculty and staff have received no communication that indicates QCUSD has a plan in place. We are also still without plans on how to accommodate our at risk staff or how we will deal with an outbreak. Until we have actionable, realistic, and safe plans for likely eventualities we will face as well as guidelines on what specific events would lead to which plans, we do not have the information necessary to make an informed decision on this important matter.

As a further legal concern, our certified, contracted Pre-K teachers are being required to return to class prior to the date set by our Governors Executive Order closing schools. Governor Ducey's Executive Order 2020-44 Point 3 clearly states "Schools that have implemented child care programs shall continue to offer those programs until the start of in-person classes." The phrases "have implemented" and "shall continue" applies to the continuation of existing programs not the creation or reclassification of new ones. Prior to this executive order our Pre-K programs and teachers have been classified as the certified educators that they are as are the programs they teach. While we understand the importance of providing all of our educational services to our community, reclassifying employees in order to get around an executive order is not acceptable.

In regards to the matter of safety, we have additional concerns. While sterilizing surfaces is a generally good practice, it does next to nothing in terms of preventing COVID-19 as it is an airborne disease. The best evidence we have suggests it “may” be possible for it to spread from a surface and we have known since March that surface spread is at most a small minority of cases. To focus our efforts exclusively on the least likely way for this disease to spread is fundamentally and factually unsafe and ineffective. The majority of our plan, keeping 30-40 students in close proximity with no facemasks, is a situation that is so ideal for spreading COVID-19 that it is referred to as a “super-spreader” event when it happens outside the classroom. One infected person in this type of environment has consistently been able to infect a dozen or more people within an hour. This is a documented phenomenon which has happened at bars, churches, restaurants and even classrooms across the planet already, repeating this experiment on our students is unnecessary, dangerous and morally unacceptable. While there is some preliminary evidence suggesting elementary age students are less likely to contract or spread the disease, we do not have anything approaching conclusive evidence in this regard yet. We would appreciate it if the Governing Board would consult with a team of medical professionals, if you are able to find any that aren't working 18 hour days in an overflowing Intensive Care Unit, about the facts of how this disease is transmitted. In the absence of that collaboration, we have a multitude of trained scientific and medical professionals already on contract with the district as instructors who would be happy to help guide decision making so that we can develop a plan that is safe in more than name.

These safety concerns have also arisen in regards to plans for teachers to return to their sites. Many sites still plan to host their usual “Meet the Teacher” events in which they would be exposed to many individuals without having proper safety precautions in place. Planned professional development events are similarly lacking in safety precautions. No plan has been shared that outlines how safety measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and limiting attendees to ten or less will be addressed during these trainings. These events can be accomplished virtually, which would lead to no risk for our staff, students, or community members. Many of us have been extremely diligent in remaining safe during this crisis and are unwilling to needlessly expose ourselves and loved ones to these high-risk situations that do not follow the best science and safety guidelines we have.

Similarly, people are concerned about the plans to have teachers work from empty classrooms on a campus occupied by people who we can not be sure are taking proper safety precautions. This is particularly disruptive to parents who now will have an extra $400 per child per month they need to find for childcare. Of course this is an issue that is not confined to teachers exclusively, and we need better solutions across the board. During the 4th quarter of last year, many faculty members productively used the time to develop effective online instructional tools, including home recording studios that simply will not work as effectively from the classroom. While we appreciate and agree with the need for accountability, we disagree with the notion that teachers were “on vacation” for the end of last year. The fact of the matter is that limitations were placed on faculty and instruction because we could not hold students responsible or even assign required materials. We produced educational material but quickly saw engagement drop to zero due in part to a lack of student accountability. That is not the case this year and inflicting undue hardship on our staff with no benefit does nothing to help our students and in many cases will decrease the quality of materials we can produce. Again, we completely agree that teachers need to be held accountable, but we need to work to find ways to hold ourselves accountable that are more beneficial and less detrimental that keep both students and staff safe and healthy.

Below find a signed list of continuing teachers and staff (as well as the community members who support them) who, while not resigning with this offer, are strongly opposed to a reopening plan that would willfully endanger themselves, their students and their community. If you wish to make this offer again at a time where we have the information available to make an informed decision, have removed the “suitable replacement” language, and we know that our district is in a position to proceed with this unsafe reopening plan, we would take your offer then. We would prefer to sit down and discuss the issues we are facing and develop realistic, safe plans in order to serve our community as that is what we have chosen as our path in life. We are available at QueenCreekEA@gmail.com if you would like to begin that conversation.

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