Colleagues,

Defying the collective wisdom of the overwhelming majority of parents and teachers, the Rochester City School District decided to push ahead with reopening schools before they are ready – thus disrupting the education of our students and playing Russian Roulette with their lives and the lives of their educators. As if we needed more proof that common sense is not so common at Central Office. I’m sure that eventually they’ll do the right thing – but not until after they’ve tried everything else.

While themselves meeting remotely, the Board of Education and Central Office administrators are putting children, teachers and families in harm’s way. The irony and hypocrisy is not lost on us. Apparently optics matter more to them than reality. Rather than taking the time to get more ready with safety measures and with an instructional plan that would be actually doable, the Superintendent is promoting the false narrative that teachers are “leading the charge to keep schools closed for City scholars who face educational disparities.” Yet, teachers are not the villain; the virus, is. And vilifying teachers is not the answer; vaccinating teachers and coming up with a doable instructional plan, is. 

It’s hard to predict what we’ll encounter at Elementary schools tomorrow and at Secondary schools right after the February recess. Some teachers have already received medical accommodations because of serious underlying health conditions. Some have applied for a leave of absence. Still others are left with the unfair predicament of choosing between their jobs and protecting the health of their families. We are continuing to advocate for them all. Meanwhile, here are some of the specific goals we are currently pursuing on your behalf and on behalf of your students:

– Simultaneous Teaching. At the last minute, the District is still scrambling to provide the needed technology to students and teachers. Meanwhile, teachers still have not received adequate professional development nor a credible and relevant demonstration of simultaneous teaching. No wonder some teachers are planning to invite Superintendent Myers-Small <Lesli.Myers-Small@rcsdk12.org>, Director of Teaching and Learning Kathleen Black <Kathleen.Black@rcsdk12.org>, Deputy Superintendent Genelle Morris <Genelle Morris@rcsdk12.org>, School Chiefs and other Central Office administrators, to come and demonstrate for them exactly how it can be done.

– Restoring COVID-19 Testing. The District announced two weeks ago that, like other school districts in Monroe County, they will discontinue COVID-19 randomized testing in our schools. We strongly objected and pointed out that, contrary to what the RCSD was claiming, most school districts in our county determined to continue the testing. Especially in absence of vaccination, COVID-19 testing is an indispensable tool for determining the presence of widespread danger. We have also reached out to the County Executive Adam Bello to achieve access and support for this critical program. Now the RCSD appears to be ready to reverse this reckless decision and resume COVID-19 random testing in our schools.

– Facilitating Access to Vaccination. Mindful that we are still dealing with a potentially deadly virus that is airborne, our position remains that in-person teaching and learning should resume after those who want to be vaccinated can, indeed, get vaccinated. As you know, the District rejected that logic and determined to risk the health, and even lives, of teachers, students and families. We have reached out local legislators, political leaders and to the Monroe County Vaccination Task Force to explore how our members could get greater access to COVID-19 vaccination. Those discussions will continue this week and we will keep you informed about the progress of our efforts.

– Accommodations. Thus far, to the best of our knowledge, 245 teachers have submitted a request for accommodations. As of now, 68 were approved for fully remote teaching; 24 were approved for medical leave; 8 were denied; 62 are still under review; 55 have yet to provide additional information; and 28 indicated that an accommodation is no longer needed for them. Please know that the District has an obligation to consider requests for accommodations whenever submitted. And while the District prefers 30 days advance notice, requests for leaves of absence can also be submitted whenever needed.

– Assessment of Readiness. With the reopening of schools for hybrid instruction in Phases 1 and 2, we have sent an instrument to your RTA Faculty Representatives asking them to inform us about the specific status of readiness at your classroom and school. The categories are related to  simultaneous teaching, technology, PPE supplies, spacing and social distancing, requests to perform out-of-unit work, and standard operating procedures. Your RTA Faculty Representative will address any concerns with your principal and, if necessary, we will immediately address them with Central Office.

Of course teachers want to return to in-person instruction – when it is truly safe to do so and when the District has a solid and a doable instructional plan. Thank you for your continued solidarity and for all that you do for your students. We will soon be in touch about our further actions in our quest for safety and for making the teaching and learning environment what it should be for you and for our students.

Adam Urbanski, RTA President