A Statement from WEA on Testing, Building Conditions, and Face Coverings

A Statement from the Weston Education Association on Testing, Building Conditions, and Face Coverings

August 3, 2020

INTRODUCTION

At the July 27 School Committee meeting, we shared a general statement on the reopening of schools in the Fall and a return to in-person learning. Since then, we have received some requests from community members about the specifics of our positions. In this document, we go into detail with some of our questions and concerns about in-person schooling. Specifically, this document discusses COVID 19 testing and data, our request for assessing the safety of the buildings, and our questions related to face-coverings. We see the value and productiveness of engaging community members on these safety topics. Future community-wide statements from the WEA may be coming about sanitation and cleaning, de-densification of buildings, safe arrival and dismissal procedures, safe lunch and snack procedures, and an analysis of the DESE document on suggested procedures when a member of our community is possibly exposed or tests positive. 

We also agree in large part with the School Committee members who spoke on July 27 about the value in keeping some of the specifics of negotiations among the teams doing the negotiating. At this time, we think it’s best to leave the specifics around work assignments, faculty schedules, etc to the parties at the bargaining table. Fostering a community-wide conversation on these topics at this point does not help us work through the many issues in front of us. However, please know that all the items on our list that need solutions are solely focused on teaching and learning in the Weston Public Schools during the COVID 19 Pandemic. 

We understand the value of being able to work with students in person. We also understand that there is no possible way to guarantee a risk-free environment. However, there are definitive steps that can be taken to significantly lower the risk for both students and teachers. Clearly defined expectations, protocols, and room assessments are a vital part of any return to in-person schooling. Faculty members need to understand the specifics. In this situation, broad strokes are not enough.

To the Community: As you’ll read below, we are not making any demands or requests that are unable to be acted on as of early August. For example, ensuring readily available testing with quick results is key, but rather than making a demand that may be out of the School Committee’s control, we are just asking questions about testing. Other items, like room assessments, are deliverable. Yes – it is a large amount of information we are asking for, and it is a tremendous amount of work in a short period of time. Unfortunately, every aspect of figuring out the reopening of schools is a tremendous undertaking. But our students deserve our very best effort. 

To the Facilities Department, Administration, and School Committee: We understand the time we are asking of you. While much of this is beyond our expertise, we can help. We can put together a team of faculty members to do some of the work – window inventory, a check of the blinds, lights, etc. Please let us know how we can help

TESTING and COVID 19 DATA

Timely testing is a vital part of any return to in-person schooling. We’ve heard anecdotes of some school districts pursuing regular testing for all adults that will be in the building. Has this process begun in Weston? Is testing of secondary students being considered? What about “surface testing” and/or “pool testing”? If this has already begun, can regular updates be shared? 

Weston Administration, the School Committee, and the Board of Health were at the forefront of pushing for remote learning in the Spring at the first sign of COVID 19 spread in Weston. We greatly appreciated their focus on community safety. What data will be used to make such decisions this school year? Percent of positive tests? The number of cases? Testing timelines? While there may not be a clear answer yet, hearing about how this process will be monitored if we return to in-person schooling is important. Again, we are interested in specifics, not broad strokes. We believe that this information is important for all members of the school community, not just faculty members. 

ROOM ASSESSMENTS

A major component of assessing a return to in-person schooling for faculty, staff, students, and parents is establishing an understanding of the HVAC systems and room quality for each space in the building. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers recently released a detailed and technical document on reopening schools. We have not had a chance to review it in detail but are interested in hearing how Weston administrators and School Committee members see the use of this document. 

Workspace Assessment

  • Last week, requested that the facilities department creates a Google Sheet with tabs for each school. The tabs will have information on each room in the building (classrooms, office spaces, conference rooms, library, gyms, etc). For each space, we have requested the information listed below. Again, we believe this information is important for all members of the school community to understand, not just faculty members. 
    • The HVAC system used in the room. (AC, heating only, wall exchanger, roof unit, etc.)
    • An assessment of the HVAC readiness – Is it functioning properly? When was it checked last? Was it checked by an internal staff member or an outside company?
    • An assessment of air exchange issues – the number of air exchanges per hour? What percent of fresh air will be brought in? Who has access to change the percent? 
    • The filter type used in the room.
    • The maximum occupancy in the space with 6-foot distance. 
    • An assessment of the windows in the room – How many are there (if any)? Do they open and close properly, and do they open completely? Are there screens in the windows?
    • Any known issues/concerns with the space. Examples include known concerns of excessive heat/humidity compared to other spaces, power outages requiring a manual restart, lights that don’t turn off, etc. 
    • Any notes on work done by outside HVAC vendors since March 2020. 
  • The document will be shared with the faculty. The Facilities department will then host a Zoom meeting for each building. At this meeting, faculty members can ask questions about the room information provided. We would imagine the community would be interested in this as well, but we’ll leave that to administration to determine. 
  • After the meeting, faculty members, with consultation from the WEA, can request a 3rd party assessment of their workspace if questions or concerns remain. These assessments must be completed prior to any use of that space. 

Ongoing Maintenance

We continue to hear anecdotes across the district of instances in which HVAC systems in workspaces remained non-functional for substantial periods of time. Sometimes, the solution to a non-functioning unit has been to turn off the classroom or office unit. This may have been a somewhat acceptable and temporary solution in the past. However, our understanding is that turning it off prevents any outside air from coming into the space, other than opening windows. For any in-person schooling during the pandemic, that cannot be a solution. We request the following:

  • A clear, consistent, and transparent process for all staff members to report HVAC concerns. Perhaps something akin to the technology help-desk ticket system could be used so all needed parties (including WEA leadership) receive notice of the concern.
  • An agreement that any space without properly functioning HVAC cannot be used until it is repaired. 
  • An agreement that, with the consultation of the WEA, any faculty member can request a 3rd party analysis of the safety of their workspace. While this is being done, an alternative workspace will be provided. 

Other HVAC Questions

  • Are there any areas in which AC is configured in such a way that air (particles, etc) from one part will be circulated through other parts (ie. nurse’s office through guidance offices, principal’s office, etc.)?

HEAT AND HUMIDITY CONCERNS

 

  • Some days will be too hot and humid to safely be in the buildings with masks on and reliance on circulating outside air into most workspaces. We suggest that metrics be used to make decisions on when all learning for a day should happen remotely based on potential unsafe conditions in the buildings. While teaching outside is a good option and can likely be used by many, we cannot rely on full outside teaching on the excessively hot and humid days. 

 

  • Many educators use fans (installed ceiling fans, box fans, etc) to help provide some relief on hot and humid days. Is this safe or does it contribute to blowing around particles that may contain the virus?

FACE COVERINGS

All evidence supports wearing face-covering is of paramount importance to prevent the spread of COVID 19. While it can be an expectation that all adults will follow safety protocols, it is not a given for children. Students and their families must be educated on the importance of following protocols and there must be procedures in place for issues of non-compliance. Other items that need consideration are listed below. We are confident in our ability to collaborate with the administration, the School Committee, and perhaps the Weston Board of Health on solutions to these:

  • What will be the criteria for acceptable masks? 
  • How will mask-breaks be handled? Where will they take place and how will supervision during mask breaks be handled?
  • We have questions and concerns about mask removal in classrooms for snack, lunch, and mask breaks. This is the location where students, faculty, and staff spend most of their time, and every effort must be made to minimize spread. 
  • What procedures and policies will be in place for students who have been identified as requiring accommodations to the expectation of wearing a face covering?

Thank you for taking the time to read this document. The WEA Reopening Team, with the support of the full faculty, is committed to collaboration and transparency as we all navigate this difficult work. 

The WEA Reopening Team

Mandy Baker, Field School

Susan Bairstow, High School

Katie Brown, Field School

Michael Brown, Middle School

Heather Burns, Field School

Jon Eldridge, Middle School and High School

Trevor Glode, Country School

Leah Gordon, High School

Corey Guerra, High School

Dana LaCava, Woodland School

Jill Looney, Woodland School

Janet McGrath, Middle School

Ed McLoughlin, Middle School

John Monz, High School

Linda Oshman, Middle School

David Poras, Middle School

Carrie Rainville-Collins, Middle School

Steve Ribisi, High School

Jody Salisbury, Middle School

Erika Sava, Woodland School

Chris Shanahan, High School

 

You may contact the WEA Co-Presidents Sue Bairstow and David Poras at wea02493@gmail.com