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'Lack of faith and confidence': Teachers association sends scathing letter to Palm Beach Co. schools

Letter seeks removal of human resources chief
Posted at 3:53 PM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-08 17:48:48-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Students in the Palm Beach County School District will have the option to return to brick and mortar schools in a couple of weeks.

However, teachers still have many questions.

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"How are we supposed to clean our classrooms between classes. Who's doing the sanitation? Is it going to be up to us and the students? Am I going to be in my classroom eating lunch with my kids?" asked teacher Stephen Berlanga.

The Classroom Teachers Association in Palm Beach County said they received hundreds of emails from teachers wanting to know the school district's plan for things like personal protective equipment.

Another concern, when in-person learning starts, the CTA says distance-learning students should be matched up with distance-learning teachers.

"The juggling that they'll have to do to try to teach kids who are on a screen virtually and engage them and provide them a quality education product and the kids in their classes. We don't believe it's prudent," said Justin Katz, president of the CTA.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, sent a letter to the school district on Sept. 8, 2020, that outlined some "grave concerns" that teachers have only weeks before in-person learning resumes.

The CTA said teachers will have no planning time.

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"They will have no lunch of their own. They will have to use their planning time to chaperone students in overflow rooms," said Katz.

WPTV reached out to the school for a response to these questions. They said they received the letter, and the topics could be discussed at Wednesday's board meeting. Although the CTA is happy about a recent change, they want accountability.

"We appreciate that the district today is finally launching a remote working assignment application process for teachers who have serious medical justifications," Katz said.

Meanwhile, teachers just want answers.

"We want to know and make sure we have the answers we need to make informed decisions. We are not trying to prove any points. We just want information," Berlanga said.

Below is the full letter Katz sent to the school district on Tuesday:

Good morning, Superintendent Fennoy.

CTA will issue press release today (9-8-2020) speaking to the following three grave concerns:

1. Immediate removal and replacement of the current Chief of Human Resources for the SDPBC. The shameful and intentional refusal to create policy and procedures for employees with legitimate medical needs to work remotely is inexcusable. This was not a mistake. This was not an oversight or error of any kind. This was an intentional refusal to act on a valid concern that directly relates to the lives and safety of the district's most vulnerable employees. It is the belief of CTA that this was done exclusively because the Chief of Human Resources and his department simply did not want to do the work required to accomplish this critical (and board consensus directed) task. I have told teachers day in and day out that they will have to do things they might not like to do what is best for their students. They have done so throughout the launch of distance learning. Meanwhile, the Chief of Human Resources and other district staff feel they are exempt from having to make difficult decisions to take action that might create extra work or be difficult for them to accomplish and implement, even if it risks the lives of our medically compromised employees. This is disgraceful and lazy. This flies in the face of promises made both publicly and privately by both district leadership and the school board. This failure was on full public display last week at the special board workshop, called at its onset to specifically address this undeniable failure. Board members expressed shock, dismal, embarrassment, and shame due to this failure. I share those sentiments and as President of CTA can not tolerate that those responsible be given a pass. Accountability starts at the top and district leaders are not immune from it.

As the elected leader of the CTA, I am demanding the immediate removal of the Chief of Human Resources. He has proven unfit and unqualified for the job at the worst possible time. CTA has lost all confidence and can not allow the Department of Human Resources to remain under the leadership of such incapable hands. I will publicly speak to this tomorrow morning (9-9-2020) at a press conference I plan to hold outside of the district offices, as well as during public comment at the weekly school board meeting if this issue has not been addressed by that time. I hope you will be the leader you were appointed to be and do the right thing and hold your staff accountable, just like your lower rank and file employees are held accountable every day.

2. Simultaneous teaching (teachers returning to campus to teach in-person students while simultaneously teaching via distance learning to students in overflow rooms/in their homes) is being reported as an abysmal failure across not just the State of Florida, but throughout the entire country in places where it is being implemented. It is a Frankenstein model that demands too much of teachers and short thrifts students of a proper educational experience. While we recognize due to the COVID-19 situation that many instances of simultaneous teaching may not be avoidable, it is totally unacceptable that only 1-2 weeks before returning to campuses, that the district has finally and only marginally acknowledged that distance learning students should be paired with distance learning teachers in every situation where this is possible; and that on-campus students should be paired with on-campus teachers. Anything less than a full-throated effort to accomplish this demonstrates another unwillingness of the SDPBC and their leadership to work hard to take on a difficult task, and do the right thing in the best interest of both our students education and the fair treatment of your teachers. This Frankenstein model is setting teachers up for failure. It is unacceptable as an employer to put your employees in such a position and CTA can not accept or sit idle while we see a bad plan being rolled out to the masses of students throughout our school system. Every effort must immediately be made across the district to fix this issue and properly couple the appropriate teachers and students based parent selection of either distance or in-person learning.

3. Planning time will be all but been eliminated for thousands of teachers throughout the school district under proposals put forth by district leadership when students and teachers return to campus during Phase 2. The district is asking teachers to eliminate planning time and replace it with supervision duties in the morning during teacher planning, during duty-free lunch periods, and afternoon planning time. Enough is enough. Any planning time siphoned from teachers is time they will be forced to work from home and without compensation. This is unacceptable and in our view another example of the district deciding to push for what is easiest and cheapest for them, at the direct expense of teachers. These proposals continue a shameful theme of teachers doing more and more and having to tough it out, while district staff and leadership refuse to participate in the shared sacrifice of getting schools up and running by conceiving better and more equitable solutions to problems we face. These proposals, as is, are without a single consideration for compensation for the extra work time demanded by the district will not be accepted by CTA. If we are all in this together and all on the same team, there is a dangerous pattern to the district's solution to every problem in the schools: make teachers and school based administrators handle it, make them work harder, longer, and without fair consideration. All to avoid the district staff from having to come up with better solutions.

4. Employees need to immediately be fully informed about all PPE and sanitization products that will be available to them in their classrooms/schools. To date, they have been told nothing. They have no faith due to this lack of communication that there will even be enough proper PPE and sanitization products available to them to protect the health and safety of themselves or their students. This lapse in communication needs to be remedied immediately both at the upcoming school board meetings and directly via communication to your employees. The district is asking employees to return to campuses weeks before it is medically advisable and weeks before the county commission and the original SDPBC reopening plan called for. The least the district could have done is properly prepare and communicate this information to employees so they would have confidence they would be safe and the proper supplies would be abundantly available upon their return. The district has failed to do this.

The SDPBC currently faces another kind of crisis on top of COVID-19. That crisis is one of a sheer lack of faith and confidence that the leadership of our school district are willing and capable of doing their job, so that your teachers can properly do theirs. I communicate these concerns not to diminish the efforts of the district staff and leadership, but to demand better of them. Anything short of that is setting us all up for failure. As president of CTA, I have tried to voice these concerns respectfully and to date simply do not feel confident they have been adequately addressed. So now I have no choice but to speak publicly and as loudly as I can on the matters in hopes they will be remedied in the next week or two, prior to the full return of K-12 classes to our campuses.

Sincerely,

Justin Katz

CTA President