Teacher’s union calls RCSD back to school plan “woefully lacking”

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester school’s "back to school" plan is under fire as not safe enough for teachers and staff.

Students in the city are scheduled to go back to class in person Monday. Calling the district’s plan "woefully lacking," Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski says the union is recommending students start the first week back from the holiday remote.

"We don’t have any information that would give us assurance that students and staff will actually be safe,” Urbanski said.

The RTA has suggested that students come back from their holiday break by staying remote. In a letter to teachers Sunday night, the RTA expressed disappointment in the district’s response to the idea. Urbanski says he feels the district is not prepared.

The letter says:

During the recess, we have reached out to the Superintendent to inquire about the District’s plan for resuming instruction and to urge her to communicate to teachers about the details. This morning, we reiterated to the District our recommendation that the we pivot to remote instruction for at least the first week of January. Instead of bothering to respond, the Superintendent sent a communication to staff this afternoon to announce that we will be returning in-person – an email that is woefully lacking any specifics and ignores the perilous environment we’re in.

While the virus is raging as never before, the highly transmissible Omicron variant could turn ill-prepared schools into centers for infection.

And, once again, the Rochester City School District has no real or credible plan. Our recommendation to temporarily postpone resumption of in-person instruction would have given the District more time to assess the staffing needs and to arrange for the needed mitigation logistics and protocols – such as effective testing of all students, adequate supply of N-95 and KN-95 face masks, etc. Instead, the District is announcing a “plan” that features splitting up classes and deploying some Central Office personnel to cover a few of the many anticipated vacancies. They are thus giving parents of our students, as well as RCSD teachers and other staff, no choice but to make their own decisions about how much they trust the environment at schools.

When it can be done safely, in-person instruction is best for students. But our District is currently unprepared to ensure a safe school environment thus jeopardizing everyone’s safety and health. Other cities throughout the country, including some in New York State (Syracuse, Yonkers, New Rochelle), have already made the right decision to put safety first and to pivot to remote learning until in-person learning can resume safely. Because so much is at stake, we will continue to press our District to put safety first, too.”

District representatives say they know there are concerns about returning Monday, but ultimately decided to go back in person. A letter sent to parents Sunday does not mention the union’s suggestion for staying remote.

That letter reads:

“I know that concerns exist about returning to school/work tomorrow. Our team met several times over the break and had meetings/conversations with County Executive Bellow and Mayor Evans. Additionally, we participated in a call with the Governor (and her staff), and all have shared how important staying open is.

Surgical masks will be available for every student who does not have one. KN-95 masks will be distributed for staff to each building by Tuesday morning. The Governor’s Office has provided the District with COVID tests for every student and they will be distributed on Monday. As stated previously, we highly encourage students and families to test prior to returning on Monday.

We continue to monitor infection rates and any gaps as a result of absences. We are covering absences, dividing some classrooms in some instances, and deploying central office and other staff. We do anticipate a larger than normal student absence on Monday and believe that will help with deployment and any needed reconfigurations. Principals will communicate any changes to their staff directly.

We will monitor and review information as it becomes available and will communicate information as soon as possible should anything change.”

Meanwhile, the Greece Central School District handed out thousands of leftover test kits, and the Pittsford District had a testing site open for students Sunday night.

"The suburban districts are fully prepared, but our school district, unfortunately, is not,” Urbanski added.

The union and the school district are on the same page on one issue, they both anticipate a large student absence Monday.