As the Representative Council of the Springfield Teachers’ Association, we are writing to share with you our concern about the safety of our schools. Safety is always the priority of every educator, and as of our submission of this letter, we cannot be sure that our classrooms are safe for our students. In a time when uncertainty can mean community spread of a deadly disease, our conscience and the standards of our professional ethics require that we report what we do and do not know about the safety of our schools.
School in the time of pandemic poses new challenges to educators, students, and families. All summer, the Springfield School District has been involving school workers in a variety of reopening committees and discussions. We have been working hard with administrators to redesign education for our students, and, like so many of the students and families in our community, we are doing our best in the face of frightening instability. We miss our students. We want to go back to teaching and learning with them as we did before: in schools that are challenging, nurturing, and, above all, safe.
Our district has made a significant effort to comply with the Agency of Education’s guidelines for reopening schools. These guidelines suggest, among other things, making improvements to the ventilation systems of some buildings. Scientific consensus is growing that aerosol transmission is one way Covid-19 spreads, and these improvements to filtration and ventilation will help protect our community from an outbreak.
For us to say our buildings and classrooms are safe for adults and children, we need concrete, measurable evidence that these changes will work. The district has told us, and we have seen first-hand, that they are making improvements to ventilation and filtration systems. We continue to ask for data to indicate these repairs are sufficient to keep our school community safe. We hope that they are enough, but we currently have no way of knowing how effective those improvements will be.
Without knowing air exchange rates in our rooms, we are leaning on uncertain measures like using box fans to circulate air out windows. Some teachers already have fans in their rooms; others don’t. With budgets frozen, this leaves educators responsible for buying air safety equipment, which leads to greater variation and uncertainty about which classrooms are or are not safely outfitted, and puts the solution to a statewide problem on individual teachers.
Many teachers have strong reservations about returning to school without being certain that doing so is safe for students and staff. Circumstances leave us with little choice, and in spite of these reservations we will continue to show up every day to care for our students, and provide them the best education and protection we can. We always, like you, want what is best for our students and community. We look forward to joining with all of you to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our schools and community.
Springfield Teachers’ Association Representative Council