The school situation in one Massachusetts town remained murky Wednesday night, with teachers refusing to come to classes over COVID-19 and their employers filing a labor grievance over what they see as an illegal work stoppage.
Teachers in Sharon had planned to hold a rally and continue their boycott of on-site classroom development Wednesday in their continued push for remote learning. The Sharon Teachers Association has been demanding that the district halt its hybrid learning plan, citing air quality concerns that the union claims does not meet minimum safety standards.
"The STA is disappointed that the School Committee and Superintendent were not thorough in their planning for a hybrid learning model,” union President Bernadette Murphy has said.
But the group called off its gathering Sharon Town Center, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, with a union representative saying it was “taking a step back” to reevaluate its next steps.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday night the Sharon school committee reaffirmed their expectation that the town will start this year in a hybrid model.
School officials have already filed a petition against the teachers union over their refusal to work in the classrooms. The state labor board will hear the school committees case Thursday at 10 a.m.
“I’m disappointed. I think that too many have lost sight of what we’re here for, which is the children," said Judy Crosby, the Sharon School Committee chair.
She's argued that school buildings are safe for the blended learning model because the town has "virtually no instances," of coronavirus and a 14-day case count of zero.
Her committee filed its petition with the Massachusetts Labor Relations Board over the teachers refusing to work in the buildings, seeking for the stoppage to be declare a strike, which is illegal under state law.
The State labor board just 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.
The teachers association didn't immediately return a request for comment Wednesday evening.
Sharon has had a very low positive rate for the new coronavirus.
Students are scheduled to start classes in person on Wednesday, Sept. 16, under a hybrid plan approved by the Sharon School Committee.
Members of the STA have been refusing to work inside the schools during professional development days prior to the students' return.
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.
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.
"It is vital for their educational and emotional health that they be in school with their classmates and their teachers," Crosby said.
The STA has been maintaining that many other health and safety items remain unresolved, "making it impossible," to begin the school year with students and staff working in the buildings.
"Because of the School Committee and Superintendent’s inaction, that work will have to begin remotely," Murphy has said.