More teachers and staff of Atlantic City’s schools are expected to call out Tuesday as they continue to protest what they say is an unsafe return to in-person teaching.
On Monday, more than 200 Atlantic City Education Association members used their sick time to call out. (See full story below.)
Most of the teachers who reported for duty do not have tenure, and did so for fear of losing their jobs, sources told BreakingAC.
Those who taught class reported freezing conditions in some rooms, where the windows have to be kept open for ventilation.
Many students kept on their winter coats but were still cold.
“We proud of the more than 200 ACEA members who stood up for the health and safety of our students and community,” ACEA President P.J. Dollard said in a statement. :We are united in our commitment to ensure our children can attend schools in the safest possible environment, and we anticipate even more members will take a stand for student safety tomorrow. To be clear: we are in this difficult situation because Superintendent Barry Caldwell refuses to keep the schools in the Atlantic City School District open for remote-only instruction in the face of a compelling threat to students and staff’s personal welfare.
“The members of the ACEA will settle for nothing less than what our students deserve,” he added.
Caldwell has not returned calls for comment, but told the board president that the district has gone above and beyond what the state requested.
The issue is expected to be discussed at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.
The public can sign up to speak or view the meeting via Zoom by CLICKING THIS LINK.
Those who want to watch but not speak can click “No” in the drop-down menu when signing up. Registration ends at 5:30 p.m., a half-hour before the meeting is set to begin.
More than 200 Atlantic City teachers, staff called out Monday
More than 200 teachers and staff did not return to work Monday in protest of what union leaders say is a safe return to in-person school.
The call out was expected, especially at Brighton Avenue School, one of the district’s oldest buildings.
Teachers say updates to the ventilation system that were promised were not made at that supposed “air purifiers” were actually loud carpet dryers.
The Atlantic City Education Association members who called out “took this courageous step for their students because our district’s buildings are not safe for children to enter,” ACEA President P.J. Dollard said. “Since September, our members have been delivering safe, high-quality remote instruction for our students from their classrooms. Bringing students into those classrooms right now puts at a higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus than is necessary.”
The reopening of in-person teaching comes as case of COVID-19 continue to increase throughout the state.
“Now is not the time to bring our students back into classrooms as our state considers imposing stricter limits on both indoor and outdoor gatherings,” Dollard said. “The buildings in our school district are unable to keep those who enter safe right now.”
It was not immediately clear how many call outs were at each school.
Teachers speaking on condition of anonymity told BreakingAC that the parents of several students previously signed up for the hybrid form of learning — which has them in school on certain days — switched their children back to all-virtual as a result of the teachers’ concerns being made public.
“To return to school on Monday would endanger the health, safety and well-being of both students and staff at a number of schools because the district has failed to adequately prepare these schools for the return of students during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dollard said Sunday, after Superintendent Barry Caldwell would not be persuaded by the call to delay resuming in-person teaching.
The members “have been left with no alternative that would keep the students and staff out of harm’s way,” Dollard said.
Teachers and staff have continued to voice concerns about the district’s failure to upgrade the buildings’ ventilation systems and other issues that they say could cause health concerns in light of COVID-19.
The calls grew louder as teachers were forced to return to their classrooms even as they taught virtually.
Superintendent Barry Caldwell has not responded to numerous requests seeking comment.
The district has gone “above and beyond what the state is asking,” the superintendent told the board president.
But Board of Education President John Devlin said Caldwell told him that the district has gone “above and beyond what the state is asking us to do.”
On Saturday, union leaders told BreakingAC that Brighton Avenue’s teachers and staff had decided they would use their sick days to call out to highlight the issues.
After numerous Zoom meetings on Sunday and Caldwell’s refusal to push off the opening, employees at all schools in the district are expected to participate in the call out.
“As cases of COVID-19 rise, there can be no denying that opening the schools for in-person instruction on Monday places our students, staff and community at heightened risk of contracting the virus,” Dollard said. “The risk is unnecessary, and because the district refuses to reconsider, we want the parents in our community to know that, as educators who’ve been working in these buildings since September, we view this decision as careless, short-sighted and flat-out wrong. We are urging Superintendent Caldwell to re-evaluate this decision and push back the start date of in-person instruction until cases of COVID-19 decrease significantly in our community.”
Check back for updates.
(NOTE: This story originally ran Nov. 15, 2020. It has been updated with call out numbers.)