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Teachers Call For COVID-19 Clarity

The leader of the county’s largest teachers’ union voiced her agreement with a press release issued by New York’s teachers’ unions on Wednesday that said a single COVID-19 case in a school should trigger its immediate closure for 14 days.

“I fully agree with their perspective that with the numerous ‘What Ifs’ there are, we need to figure out what to do with a very clear understanding of what will happen if there is a positive case,” Jamestown Teachers Association President Stephanie Sardi told The Post-Journal. “We have to look out for the safety of the students, the staff and also be very mindful that if any one of those individuals were to contract the virus and bring it home to their families, we are exposing a large number of people. … That would be a very serious situation.”

In the release, New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers called for the state policy just as New York is poised to announce initial decisions on reopening plans submitted by roughly 700 school districts. The unions said in a release that districts moving ahead with re-openings “must err on the side of caution at all times.”

Districts submitted reopening proposals last week amid worries that resumption of in-person classes could put students, teachers and their families at risk. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this weekend that there needs to be a “full conversation” that answers parents’ questions about reopening safely.

The unions said that when there is a positive COVID-19 test of a student or staff member, there should be an immediate closure of that school building and a return to remote learning for at least 14 days. They also want clear statewide directives how contact tracing and quarantining will be conducted.

“This is no time to take risks,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a prepared release. “If the state allows school buildings to reopen, districts must be prepared to close them in the event of a positive case.”

Sardi, along with the association’s vice presidents and various member teachers, sit on a Jamestown Public Schools district committee that helped to reorganize a reopening plan that was released on July 31. Dr. Kevin Whitaker, district superintendent, said the union representation from JTA, in addition to other union representation, has been “extremely helpful.”

“All the representatives that I’ve talked to have been focused on the wellbeing and safety of our kids and on the safety of their adult unit members,” Whitaker said during an interview last Friday. “They’re not interested in being roadblocks. They’ve been tremendous so far. Everyone realizes that we are in a unique and bizarre and unprecedented time in the education business as well as society in general and it requires some strange things that we didn’t expect to happen. Thus far, everyone has been tremendous.”

Sardi noted that the concerns voiced in Wednesday’s media release had been conveyed to Whitaker in informal conversation.

“He wanted to know what some of my concerns were and I told him that one of my top concerns was that we are returning to work and returning to schools in a very safe and healthy way so that everyone feels comfortable about going back,” she said. “We want parents to feel that kids are going to be safe. They are sending them to us to receive an education, not to send them home with an illness.”

She said that she expects conversations to continue once the window for feedback — through a survey located at jpsny.org/reopeningsurvey — closes on Friday.

“We were expecting to get together after the surveys were completed,” she said. “We want to have a good understanding of what the community is looking for. We all want what’s best.”

Sardi also noted that those she has spoken with have been understanding of the district’s position which learns toward a hybrid model of both in-person and remote instruction as its method of returning to school in the fall. The problem, however, is that districts and teachers are still awaiting guidance from Cuomo, who is expected to make a decision on the return to schools sometime this week.

“We can’t give anyone a definite answer when we haven’t received a definite answer,” she said. “We just want to know what’s expected of us so that we can put all of our energy in that reopening. As officials, we haven’t made any decision on what model to use and we need to get community decision and we need a decision from the governor. He’s holding up our plan to return to school because he hasn’t told us if we can go back at all. He might come along and say, you need to do 100 percent remote learning and that’s what’s going to drive our discussion . Without knowing what the govenror is going to allow us to do, it makes our job difficult — we’re working with a lot of ‘What Ifs.'”

Teachers across the country are eager to return to working with their students, Sardi noted — they just want it to be in a way that is safe.

“We miss our kids,” she said. “We wnat to get back to work We want to be working with our kids but we can’t do it at the expense of everyone’s health and safety.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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