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Springfield educators’ union shares concerns about more in-person learning

Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 9:27 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Students in Springfield will transition to more in-person classes next month, but some of the teachers who work with them don’t agree with the district’s decision. The Springfield chapter of the National Education Association is calling the school district’s move irresponsible and unsafe.

In November, students in kindergarten through 8th grade will come into classrooms four days every week, instead of just two. Springfield Public School leaders believe the precautions they’re taking are working to keep case numbers and exposures down. However, as COVID-19 spreads throughout Greene County, the educators' union says, there’s no reason to take a risk with students' health.

“We of course want to see our students but no educator can cross that line where they’re doing something they think is detrimental to students' health and could cause long-term harm," said Mark Jones, Communications Director for the Missouri National Education Association.

The Springfield National Education Association (SNEA), the local chapter of the union, recently surveyed more than 900 public school employees within Springfield school district, discussing the next steps of its re-entry plan. Jones said more than 87% of those employees reported they do not think its safe to bring students back into school buildings four days per week.

“We don’t want to be the people responsible for creating an incident where students and staff are taking COVID-19 home to their families and elders who are caring for children," Jones said.

So far, Springfield Public Schools has recorded about 200 cases district-wide, according to Stephen Hall, Chief Communication Officer. Hall said not all of those cases have come from exposure inside school buildings.

“Our prevention strategies are working so we will continue doing what we know is working well. Our promise is the same as it’s always been, we will continue to monitor the data," Hall said.

According to its COVID-19 dashboard, the school district reported 35 new cases just last week, and released 31 exposure incidents since October 2nd. Jones said those numbers prove the union’s point.

“The responsible thing to do here is stay the course, continue with what’s working and re-evaluate as cases reduce in the area," Jones said.

According to Jones, Springfield educators are concerned about the inability to socially distance inside school buildings, not having enough time to properly clean, along with a lack of equipment and protective gear.

Another concern is an inadequate amount of COVID-related time off if exposed to the virus in the school environment. Jones said the district has worked with employees if they do need more time off. Hall said the school board will soon be considering a new proposal to offer more leave to affected staff.

Jones said point blank, the union disagrees with the school district’s plan and fears it will put students safety in jeopardy. He said educators can help students meet their academic goals when it is safe enough to do so.

Hall said there is no perfect plan when preparing for this pandemic, but believes the partnership with educators is vital, which is why SNEA has been included in meetings about the re-entry plan.

“While there may be certain aspects of the plan where there is disagreement, what unites us is far greater than what any of those differing views are," Hall said. “We are committed to making sure staff have what they need to be safe as we add more students to the classroom in November.”

KY3 News was unable to talk directly with a member of the SNEA for this report because the union was holding a meeting. Jones said members are discussing how to move forward in tackling the school district’s plan.

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