Welcome Back to School

Tuesday, September 21, 2021


Hi everyone!

I know this email is long, but there is a lot of important and helpful information I need to share.

As summer started coming to a close, and guidance was non-existent from the State, one of the biggest issues we had to address with Central Office, is how we were going to deliver instruction to our isolated/quarantined students.

We approached this issue with conviction.  As a Union, we felt that cameras in the classroom were not only a foreign concept to our profession, but also created a learning structure that is simply bad pedagogy.  Last year was an absolute nightmare on the secondary level, and we set out to start this school year with an alternative model.  I think you all have heard me say, repeatedly, that nothing will ever replace in-person learning.  NOTHING.  Cameras in the classroom were a response to a crisis.  You all rose to the occasion, climbed mountains, and proved that no one and nothing can replace you and what you provide to the children of Levittown every day.  Kids belong in school.  School should never be optional or convenient.  In-person learning is what’s best for our children and 'Live Streaming’ leaves kids at home disengaged, creates an atmosphere in the classroom that deprives students who want to be in school, and devalues our profession.

Thankfully, we worked collaboratively with Central Office to solve this problem.  We met and brainstormed different solutions.  There is an understanding that ‘Live Streaming’, although convenient, may not be what is best for our students.  By now, you may have seen what is posted on Levittown’s Homepage and the emails that Mr. Winch sent to the entire staff.  We believe it is fair to our teachers, and provides the students of Levittown, with an opportunity to succeed, even during an extended absence due to quarantine, without 'Live Streaming’.

Here is information that is important for our members to note when providing instruction and support to our quarantined/isolated students:

First and foremost, no teacher should be solving this problem with turning their cameras on during class lessons. There is NO REMOTE OPTION in Levittown.  NO TEACHER is to engage in this type of instruction.  They are to follow the parameters set forth in the reopening plan, Mr. Winch’s emails, and this email.

I agree with Mr. Winch, that “the ultimate goal is to make sure the quarantined student successfully learns the content and skills being addressed in class while they are quarantined.”  Teachers have spent the greater part of almost two years building their skill set within Google Classroom and should make readily available to these students on quarantine, lessons that are aligned to what’s going on in their classrooms, and supplemental materials supporting those lessons.  Teachers should also avail themselves to the student if they need clarification or support.

Accomplishing this, should be no different than what all of you are already doing - teachers are professionals, and have always availed themselves to their students.  To be clear, there is no requirement to reach out to the parent/student on quarantine, unless you are contacted by that parent/student with questions. Your response can take many different forms.  It is up to you, what that looks like.  Each student, and/or subject, might require a different approach, but you as the classroom teacher know your children best, and can decide how you would like to support those students and clarify their questions.  However, any support provided, should be just that, ’support’ or ‘clarification'.  In no way should answering questions turn into personal tutoring or additional instructional periods.   I am not going to endorse or devalue one method over another - you know best.

I am confident, that the asynchronous work provided by the teacher on Google Classroom will be robust enough not to prompt too many questions.  Please note, there is no expectation that teachers post instructional videos every day.  Teachers may want to post an instructional video to kick-off a new topic, then supplement that lesson with materials until the next unit of study begins. However, keep in mind, lessons and lesson materials does mean more than just posting assignments.

I appreciate Mr. Winch’s acknowledgement of the challenges that ‘Live Streaming’ presented and Central Office’s willingness to seek alternative solutions to this problem, even though it may not be what other stakeholders see as a viable solution to this problem.  I also anticipate the same collaborative approach if we run into any complications as to what is expected by all parties.  It is important to mention that there are certain Special Education services that may require a delivery of instruction that goes beyond asynchronous work.  These smaller settings may require a “Google Meet’ to ensure that we are addressing the needs of these students, as required by law.  I want to be clear that this method of delivery and structure is still different than the concurrent learning environment the hybrid model created last school year.

This year, like last year, will remain a fluid process.  We will continue to review the conditions on the ground and adjust our plan if needed.  Our goal was to rid our classrooms of cameras and get back to what we know is best practice and what’s best for kids.  I am glad we are starting the school year this way.  It is a better start than last year.  Three feet and masks may mitigate the need for quarantine, as may large portions of the staff and students being vaccinated.  But, if we find the numbers increasing, we will need to assess if our members can keep up.  Many quarantines per class, and multiple quarantines per student, may prove challenging for our teachers, and we will need your feedback if that is the case.

Another unexpected challenge came our way heading into the holiday weekend - the mandate that school districts will be required to test school employees weekly.  By now, you have seen Mrs. Rifkin’s emails.  As always, we will continue to work with the legal guidance that comes down from NYSUT and the District to ensure we have the best plan in place for our membership.  I have already had multiple conversations with Central Office, Nassau NYSUT and other Union Presidents on Long Island.  Here is what we know so far:

  • The State’s directive released late on Thursday, September 2nd, requires school districts to test staff weekly, unless the employee can provide proof of vaccination to opt-out of testing.
  • There is no reference to perceived immunity.  Having previously tested positive for the virus will not absolve an employee from complying with the first bullet above.
  • In terms of employment (Department of Labor), public health (Department of Health), and discrimination (EEOC) law, it is well documented that the rights of employers, when it comes to ensuring public health, are increased during pandemics, granting them the right to ask questions about health-related issues that are relevant to ensuring the safety of their workplaces.  This is a mandate from the State.  A mandate all school Districts are force to carry out, and their employees, forced to comply with.  The request for this type of health data is well within their right.
  • The Guidance memo provides additional details on testing and returning to school for symptomatic students and staff, as well as close contacts.
  • Our District will utilize a company to offer testing on site, at two locations starting September 20th.
  • The vaccination status submitted by our members, as well as the testing data provided, will be stored safely, securely, and will not become part of any personnel file.

As we continue to navigate this pandemic, we will continue to have questions.  We will continue to be called upon at times to pivot sharply without all the answers.  And we will continue to receive directives that may be in contrast with what some of us, personally, think is the best path forward.

Regardless of how we all feel on the myriad of issues that we have had to face over the last two years, it has been our unwavering professionalism that remains our strength.

I know that as another challenging school year gets underway, you all will again climb mountains.  It’s what you do.  And I still have no doubt that we will get through this together.

In Unity,