Colleagues,

I hope you had a safe and restful Winter recess.

The Rochester City School District is proceeding with reopening school buildings despite the fact that they are not fully ready to do so safely and effectively – not with mitigation, not with COVID testing, not with vaccinations and not with a doable instructional plan. Dismissing the legitimate concerns of the overwhelming majority of teachers and parents, the District is willing to put teachers and students in harm’s way and to subject both to a senseless educational strategy – their last-minute scrambling notwithstanding:

– Simultaneous Teaching. To this day, the District has provided neither relevant professional development on simultaneous teaching nor, despite repeated requests to do so, have they been able to demonstrate credibly how simultaneous teaching is doable in a district like ours. Many teachers still report a lack of needed technology and support to even execute this ill-conceived strategy. Resultantly, both in-person and remote students’ instruction is compromised. Teachers’ strong opposition to this ineffective approach fell on deaf ears at Central Office and was trumped by RCSD bureaucrats who think they know better. 

– Ventilation. If it weren’t for RTA’s intervention through hiring an independent Industrial Hygienist expert, the District would be still sending students and their educators into some school buildings that do not meet minimum standards for ventilation. They now claim that they’ve installed MERV 13 filters at all but two Phase 3 schools (Leadership Academy for Young Men and Rochester International Academy). RTA’s Industrial Hygienists were to inspect Phase 3 schools last week but had to postpone until this week because of inclement weather. Our experts have yet to verify that the District did, indeed, correct the ventilation deficiencies that they claim they did – especially since they previously admitted that some ventilation systems, such as School #12’s, are incompatible with MERV 13 filters and cannot be accommodated without compromising their effectiveness.

– Accommodations. As of February 17, a total of 267 RTA members have requested accommodations. Of these, 115 were approved for remote-only teaching, 43 were approved for medical leave, 39 are yet to provide a response with additional information, 38 no longer are interested, 10 are still under review, 9 were approved for additional at-building accommodation, and 9 were denied. We continue to address with the District any individual concerns about accommodations. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact RTA’s  Martha Keating <maskerade6@aol.com>. 

– COVID Testing. We remain uncertain whether and when RCSD will resume antigen testing for asymptomatic COVID-19. Our repeated inquiries remain unanswered. In her last email to you, Superintendent Myers-Small did indicate that such testing should be offered on a voluntary basis but no indication as to who will administer the testing, when it will resume, or even if it will resume. Such testing is absolutely necessary in order to monitor the spread of contagion and to reduce the likelihood of outbreaks.

– Vaccination. The District’s own survey indicates that only 33% of RCSD staff have already received a vaccine (25.5% had received the first dose and 7.5% have received the second dose). More than 83% want to be vaccinated but 57% do not even have an appointment yet. Fewer than 6% do not want to be vaccinated. And in a recent national survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, more than 71% of teachers said that they are fearful of bringing the virus home to their families. An increasing number of states and localities are making it a priority to vaccinate teachers and other school employees. We are continuing our efforts to make that happen here, too, by working with local legislators, with the County Executive and with the Monroe County Department of Health. The District’s decision to rush reopening school buildings before teachers have an opportunity to be  vaccinated is reckless and represents a serious danger to teachers, students, and families of both.

– Reprisals. Some teachers and RTA Faculty Representatives have reported to us that they have been approached by Central Office or school-level administrators who wanted to know why they spoke out at school board meetings or on social media about concerns related to the District’s reopening plans. We have already filed a Class Action Grievance and will continue to fight such inappropriate and illegal attempts at intimidation and reprisals. Teachers have every right to express their opinions and professional judgement. By doing so, teachers are in fact advocating not only for themselves but also for their students’ safety and for the integrity of educational programs. Please continue to report to us any evidence of administrators interfering with the rights of teachers to speak out.

 RCSD’s Lack of Readiness. During the week before the Winter break, we reached out to RTA Faculty Representatives and asked them to inform us about the status of readiness for safety and instruction at each school and program. From the reports that we’ve already received, many have identified unresolved issues with simultaneous teaching, lack of technology, inadequate personal protective equipment, confusion about standard operating procedures, demands that teachers perform out-of-unit work, lack of substitute teachers, lack of sufficient cleaning and sterilization, inadequate signage for social distancing, uneven enforcement of proper mask-wearing, a continuation of inadequate communication and other aspects of departures from a safe environment for teaching and learning. If you have any of these or other concerns, please be sure to bring them to the attention of your RTA Faculty Representative(s).

We remain determined to monitor the conditions in our schools and to continue to advocate for safety and instructional integrity. The RTA Representative Assembly, our union’s only policy-making body, will meet this Tuesday to further address all these issues and to identify additional responses to the District’s actions. We will be in touch with you again very soon after that. Meanwhile, please contact us with any questions, concerns or if you need assistance.

Thank you for your continued solidarity and confidence in our ongoing efforts on your behalf and on behalf of your students.

Adam Urbanski, RTA President