Administration expires teacher accommodations for in-person learning

Emily Blumberg and Ella Naugle

Many teachers have worked from home since the beginning of the school year as a result of numerous accommodations. When South moves into the second semester on Jan. 19,  the accommodation for teachers who stayed home due to childcare will expire, Superintendent Dr. Charles Johns said.

While allowing teachers to reapply for accommodations due to medical reasons, the district has created four options for teachers with children moving into semester two, Johns said. He explained these teachers can either return to in-person teaching, take an unpaid leave of absence, apply for traditional leave under the Family Medical Leave Act or apply for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, if extended by the government after Dec. 31.

This change in accommodations was prompted by the district’s belief that students cannot obtain a quality education from online classes and in-person substitute teachers, Johns said.

“In the end, the Board [of Education], after considering regular input from our students, parents and employees, decided to revisit the accommodations that had been granted,” Johns said. “We believe that these changes are in the best interest of our students while continuing to accommodate our teachers with medical needs.”

South has outlined a plan that will allow the children of these teachers to be able to do their Zoom classes from a designated room inside the building, Principal Dr. Lauren Fagel said. The “Zoom Room” idea was created in hopes of providing an alternative childcare option to those teachers who need it, although it has not been determined how many are choosing to participate, Fagel said.

“The district is offering a ‘Zoom Room’ for the upper-elementary and middle school -aged children of staff members (grades 3-8),” Fagel said. “This would be a safe and supervised location on campus for children to work on their academic work/Zoom classes.  Staff members could bring their children for an AM (7:30 – 11:00) session and/or a PM (12:00-3:30) session.  Each AM or PM session would cost $10 per student.”

The recent announcement of the upcoming accommodation change has made some teachers reevaluate their plan moving into the second semester. South teacher Callie Thompson* stated that if the district declines her request to stay home with her children, she will be taking an unpaid leave of absence beginning Jan. 19.

“I will be taking a leave of absence as I strongly suspect my request to stay home with my elementary-aged child will be denied,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to stop seeing my family. Our union works to protect us but this board is determined to bring us back. I will be taking a leave.”

Numerous parents have voiced their concerns with this change, including South parent Kimberly Condon. She believes that teachers should not have to undergo stress as a result of their place of work not providing them with childcare accommodations.

“It is unfair that [childcare accommodations will be] expiring,” Condon said. “Our teachers are an invaluable part of the community and should be treated as such.”

Junior Liz Duncan finds this change to be unnecessary as she has found her e-learning experience to be positive, and she feels her education has not been compromised as a result of her teachers working over Zoom.

“I feel that it displays a lack of regard for teachers with children, especially those with children too young to attend school,” Duncan said. “Teaching remotely is still an effective learning system, and doing away with that option does more harm than good.”

On the contrary, junior Alyssa Smith* supports the upcoming accommodation change, as she believes teachers should be responsible for independently finding childcare options.

“I think it’s a logical change,” Smith said. “I understand why people with medical conditions are staying home but with the whole childcare issue, I think it is a bit ridiculous. They should be able to find a daycare, family member or their spouse to watch their kids.”

Matthew Whipple, social studies teacher, understands why some teachers might be caught off guard by this change, however he said accommodations for teachers with kids was never intended to be permanent and are not required by the law.

“While childcare accommodations are not legally required, the provision for such accommodation allowed teachers to maintain some semblance of family stability,” Whipple said. “It is unfortunate that teachers who have spent the fall connecting with students would now be forced out for the semester.”

While Thompson feels supported by the South community and the teachers union, she believes that the board came to a decision on the upcoming accommodation change without fairly representing and hearing the perspectives of many South teachers.

“All communication has been through our union and administration,” Thompson said. “I think that teachers haven’t really been heard from the beginning by the school board.”

Despite Thompson feels that the staff’s voice is not heard in the district’s administrative decisions, Johns stated that a member of the teachers union was present at the meeting where accommodation alterations were made. He remarked that this representative signed off on this change.

“Teacher representatives from the Glenbrook Education Association (GEA) were part of these discussions, and on Dec. 3, the GEA signed a Memorandum of Understanding reflecting all of the changes in accommodations for childcare and healthcare,” Johns said.

Although this decision was made to improve the quality of education for South students, Thompson does not think that the district considered the impact on teachers

“It’s heartbreaking,” Thompson said. “I think it’s fair to say that this is the most challenging work year that any teacher has ever faced.”

*Names have been changed