Evansville Middle School Music Teacher and President of the Indiana State Teachers Association, Keith Gambill, ISTA members and other educators met with Governor Holcomb via a Zoom call on July 14th. The purpose was to discuss what it will look like for schools as teachers begin to return to work.
Following the meeting, the team held a live video call to debrief ISTA members and the public on the meeting with Governor Holcomb, Dr. Box and Katie Jenner, an education advisor from Governor’s office.
Note: This is the information I gathered while “attending” the virtual debriefing. I have done my best to share details and facts as they were shared and as I understand them.
Teachers Association Meeting with Governor Holcomb
Keith opened the public meeting by saying something that rings true for society as a whole during these times, “Things are going to change on a regular basis…What was true on Monday is different on Tuesday. And we have to be prepared for these changes as they’re coming along.”
The Teachers Association had several high level talking points with Governor Holcomb;
- Mandatory face masks for 6-12 and K-5 students need to be wearing them with flexibility.
- Clear standards from the state and local districts about what it looks like for in-person school, virtual, etc.
- Make sure that we’re looking after our most vulnerable students and staff members.
- How to get staff and students home if they become ill at school.
- Waiver days are important. We may need to call upon that again.
- Elimination of standardized testing for 20-21 school year.
Ask: Mandatory Face Masks for Students 6-12, flexibility for students K-5.
Teachers association believes masks should be mandatory for grades 6-12. The association recognizes that masks are important for the younger students, but it is understood that younger kids will need assistance and help learning how to wear the mask. Some flexibility will be needed for the younger age groups, but they still need to be used a “great deal.”
It is acknowledged by the association that there are “fragile” students who will have difficulty with this — ISTA shared with the governor that some children have difficulty wearing shoes and socks. Professionals who work with children with special needs have major concerns about working in close proximity with students, performing functions like assistance in the bathroom or securing in chairs or safety vests, etc.
There has been a huge lack of funding for school nurses and clinics and much of this work will fall on the school nurses. Some school districts have one registered nurse (RN) per district and others have an RN onsite in every school, whenever school is in session.
“These inequities for students have to change. The ability for some of these schools when they have a healthcare professional in every single building and they’ve got the plan laid out and they’re able to go back face to face are going to put those students on a very different playing field than the school districts who are not prepared to go back and go back on a virtual level. Even at the highest level of virtual, we know that it’s not going to be the same, so we’ve got to work to change those discrepancies that are occurring, those inequities that are occurring and so we’ve got to be vigilant in our work to make those changes.” – Keith Gambill, ISTA President
Access to PPE and materials: The governor has provided some PPE to schools (it has been said one disposable mask per student) but it’s not enough. School districts do not want to fight with each other to get access to PPE. On a daily basis, students come to school without the necessary supplies, and this will be the same with masks.
Ask: There needs to be clear guidance at the state level to alleviate the stress that comes from a lack of clear, solid messaging from the state and the local school districts.
ISTA asks for there to be guidance and common metrics that can be used to decide when a school should close in-person learning and other COVID related decisions.
For example, when a teacher tests positive for COVID, what happens to the students? We know what happens to the teacher, but what about all of the students? Will there be a substitute teacher interested in coming into a classroom where they know a teacher had a positive COVID test? There needs to be more guidance with this.
Ask: Make sure that we’re looking after our most vulnerable students and staff members. Extended leave of absence for educators, highest level of PPE and sufficient PPE for teachers (and students). Offer safe in person options for all of our students or make the online education more accessible.
The needs of the most vulnerable staff and students must be considered. The protection provided is not the best and may not even be appropriate for the situations that some educators are put in. ISTA members remind us that there’s already a teacher shortage and we’re not doing enough to protect those who are vulnerable or high risk. Teachers are having to choose between being exposed to the virus or to not stay in this profession.
“Leaving all of the responsibility for protecting these teachers on the local school districts is almost an impossible task and not safe for our educators at all.” – Allison Haley
The virtual option is not an option for all of the families that have children in school. Vulnerable students are disproportionally special education students as well.
“Families are choosing between their child’s health and their child’s education and it’s really an impossible choice. “- RaeAnn Wintin
Items that were briefly discussed but did not have much elaboration
Ask: Schools should be delayed or be able to get a waiver until they have all of the safety apparatus and supplies needed. School systems may need to call upon waiver days again.
Dr. Box indicated that schools have the option to delay until they feel that they can open safely.
Ask: Elimination of standardized testing for 20-21 school year.
This is a federal issue, not just a state issue. This has to be worked on multiple levels. Indiana could reduce the amount of standardized testing if federal will not.
ISTA member, Jennifer Andrews left the meeting feeling that the governor was receptive and really listened to what they had to say. She felt that he generally wants the best for the students and teachers, he’s not rushing in to it and he’s thinking about the process and about how school should proceed.
“It’s not that teachers don’t want to go back to school, we desperately want to go back to school but being essential has to be done the right way and we need to be listened to during that process.” – Charles Foster
Hamilton Southeastern Schools will return to school 100% virtual and one day later than planned, Washington Township Schools will also return to school in a virtual learning setting. Noblesville Schools adopted a full time in-person return to school but later changed their plans to a hybrid model for their high school, with 50% of students on campus each day. Carmel Schools also announced a hybrid plan for high school students.
Working parents are worried about childcare and rightfully so. As plans develop, businesses and organizations are stepping up to help come up with solutions, like AYS (At Your School) Program, will be offering full time E-learning Assistance with childcare.