Teachers who were refusing to work in Sharon Public School buildings agreed to return to their classrooms in a settlement reached between the union and school district overnight.
The accord comes after Sharon School Committee members filed a petition with the Massachusetts Labor Relations Board earlier this week seeking the stoppage to be declared a strike, which is illegal under state law.
“As part of the settlement, the Sharon Teachers Association acknowledged that its refusal to enter Sharon schools for the past three days was a violation of state law, which prohibits strikes by public employees,” Sharon School Committee Chair Judy Crosby said Friday.
Schools can now move forward with a hybrid learning model when classes start next week.
The Sharon Teachers Association and the town's school committee reached the settlement late Thursday, after a hearing was held before the state's labor board on the petition. The district agreed to withdraw its request for a strike investigation as part of the agreement.
“This has always been about serving our students," Crosby said. "Having them back in the classroom will permit us to meet their learning, social and emotional needs."
Teachers were back in the buildings for training Friday.
The union agreed to comply with the district’s decision to begin classes under a hybrid learning model, in which students are split into groups with half attending class in-person for two days and remote for two days. Wednesday of each week will be remote learning for all students.
“We did the best thing we could, and we are going to keep up the fight here until the schools are safe,” said Bernadette Murphy, president of the Sharon Teachers Association.
Some students showed their support for teachers by standing outside the high school holding signs that defended them.
"It’s clear that the teachers don’t feel safe, and they should have the same options that we as students do," Oliver Farrell said.
All five Sharon schools will open on Wednesday, Sept. 16, with remote learning delivered by teachers from their classrooms. The first day of in-person instruction will be Thursday, Sept. 17. The district has scheduled teacher training in its buildings through Tuesday.
“We have always said our schools are safe for students and staff,” Crosby said, noting that Sharon continues to have a low instance of COVID-19.
Members of the STA were boycotting their classrooms during professional development days prior to the students' return in a push for remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. Union leaders cited air quality concerns, which they claimed do not meet minimum safety standards, as they demanded that the district halt its hybrid learning plan.
The STA had planned to hold a rally in town and continue their boycott of on-site classroom development, but later called off the gathering with a union representative saying it was “taking a step back” to reevaluate next steps.
The cancellation came after the state labor board ruled Andover teachers participated in an illegal strike when they refused to enter school buildings last week over what they called unsafe conditions. On Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker said he agreed with the ruling to get the teachers back in the building.
With the help of a state mediator, the STA and the school committee have met at least seven times to negotiate health and safety protocols before reaching the settlement.
As part of the bargaining, the district’s HVAC contractor evaluated the HVAC systems in Sharon schools, according to the STA. The union claims that none of the schools met minimum standards for maintaining air quality sufficient to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the nurses’ offices recirculate indoor air to the administrative suites.