Give Lower Merion educators the option to work from home
Give Lower Merion educators the option to work from home
When Lower Merion School District students are learning from home, their educators should have the option to work from home.
The Lower Merion administration has proposed a thoughtful approach to the start of the 2020 school year, with students learning from home until at least October 5th. This “wait and see” approach was informed primarily by concerns about the health and safety of students and staff while positivity rates are up, testing is bogged down, and necessary PPE is challenging to get. However, even when there are no students in the buildings, LMSD educators have been told they will be returning to schools to work. This guidance should be reconsidered for the following reasons.
I. It contradicts Gov. Wolf’s teleworking order
On July 15, PA Governor Tom Wolf and Sec. of Health Dr. Rachel Levine signed an order declaring “Unless not possible, all businesses are required to conduct their operations in whole or in part remotely through individual teleworking of their employees[.]” Although it was challenging, the spring of 2020 showed that it is possible for most educators to work from home. If the challenges that an educator faced when working from home were based on their lack of access to the school building, then in accordance with the order access for that person should be considered.
II. It’s simply not necessary
As Dr. Gaudioso pointed out in Monday’s presentation, modern education rarely looks like a teacher lecturing in front of a whiteboard for half an hour. A class session flows between several modalities – direct instruction, class conversation, small group share-outs, et cetera - which can be supported surprisingly well in a virtual environment. Educators are puzzled by the implication that they need whiteboards and markers to be effective. They don’t. And if there are materials in the building that are essential to their work, that brings us back to item I.
III. It unnecessarily puts educators and their families at risk – which is bad for students
Many educators are in vulnerable populations, or have family members who are vulnerable – although we all know a person doesn’t have to be “vulnerable” to suffer greatly from COVID-19. At Lower Merion High School alone, there are over 200 staff members, most of whom share a classroom or working space with at least one if not several people daily – not to mention shared bathrooms, copy machines, refrigerators, et cetera. Simply put – if educators are in school buildings, they and their families are at an increased risk of getting sick. And if they get sick, besides the obvious implications for their own wellbeing, they will not be available to their students, whose educational outcomes will suffer.
IV. Educators are parents and caregivers too
Parents and caregivers everywhere are scrambling to determine what is best for their own families this fall. If LMSD educators are forced to return to school buildings, they cannot provide care and support for their own families. Many will have no choice but to find childcare outside the home or enroll their children in any available in-person schooling in their home district, which brings us back to point II – increased contact means increased pathways for transmission both in families and in LMSD buildings. Those who can afford to are considering using FMLA to take a leave of absence at the beginning of the school year. These open positions will be difficult for the district to fill just weeks before school starts.
V. It’s inefficient
Most LMSD educators do not live in LMSD. Many commute over 20 miles – from Downingtown, Warminster, Hatboro, West Chester, Doylestown, Chadds Ford, and New Jersey, to name a few – spending hours each day in the car in order to work with students. The environmental implications alone are important, but consider simply what a horrific waste of time and energy it will be for educators to make these pointless commutes to sit all day in a building without students. That time could be better spent doing literally anything else – and honestly, many educators would use that time at home to work, whether that means planning lessons, grading, meeting individually with students, or hosting virtual club meetings. Teaching this past spring required bottomless energy and effort as educators were forced to rethink and revise their curriculum and methods. This fall they face the same struggle and will need all the time they can get.
VI. Logistics are a struggle
There are far more educators than rooms in a school. Normally, when an educator is not working directly with students in a classroom they work or collaborate in a shared prep space or planning center, where there might be six or more other educators assembled. If educators are forced to return to buildings, they will be forced to congregate. Besides the health considerations, this means some teachers will run their online classes while masked, making it more challenging for students to access the content and human element of their teacher. Also, asking a whole school of teachers to simultaneously stream video over the school network is likely to cause significant internet overloads and lag. And what if the internet does go down? It happens all the time. On a normal school day, this might require an educator to pivot to a different activity. If teaching from school to students at home, it means all education in all classes grinds to a halt instantaneously. And what of the educators who work across multiple buildings? Would they be asked to travel from school to childless school? Will bus drivers be asked to drive empty buses? If your reaction is “no – that doesn’t make sense” then why does it make sense for a teacher to sit in front of empty desks?
Without students, a school is just a building. Asking educators to congregate in a building without students is pointless, thoughtless, dangerous, a waste of time and energy, and a mockery of their professionalism. The undersigned ask that the administration and school board of Lower Merion reconsider their position, and give their educators the option to work from home when their students are not in schools.