WEST NEWBURY — In a survey of 265 staff members across the district, the Pentucket Association of Teachers found that close to 70% of teachers favor using a remote learning model to start the school year.
The survey, distributed prior to the School Committee's decision Tuesday to begin the year with a hybrid model, only echoed what teachers unions have been calling for across the state.
The Pentucket Association of Teachers recently joined more than 40 local education associations, representing over 16,000 educators in the area, in signing an open letter that called on "all public schools to begin the school year with a comprehensive distance learning plan that has the potential to graduate to a hybrid learning model."
The letter, drafted by the recently formed North of Boston Educator Action Network, recommends that districts focus on developing "high-quality distance learning" first before easing into any type of in-person instruction.
With those considerations in mind, network co-Chairs Cynthia Carney, president of the Gloucester Teachers Association, and Will Karvouniaris, president of the Wakefield Education Association, emphasized in the letter that districts must assess their buildings to ensure the health and safety for all students and staff.
They also said the state "must commit to fully funding public schools so that local school districts can recover from this public health crisis by funding the schools their communities need."
Mike Wendt, president of the Pentucket Association of Teachers, read the full letter during the public comment period at the virtual School Committee meeting Tuesday.
In a follow-up phone call with The Daily News, he said it is important to note that "as teachers, we would love nothing more than to be back in our classroom with our students."
Still, the top concern is the health and well-being of students and staff, Wendt said.
He said teachers are not opposed to what he called a "controlled environment type of return."
Teachers want to be back in the classroom, but the hybrid model doesn't allow for a gradual return to the classroom, he said.
With the hybrid model, students would attend classes in person two days a week, while learning remotely the other three days. But teachers would be in the classroom all five days.
Roughly 47% of staff members have children at home age 17 and under, Wendt said. If their children are participating in remote learning for part or all of the week, those teachers may have to look at child care options.
"You can imagine that that presents a huge predicament because child care issues right now are so uncertain," he said, adding that it is further complicated by all the different directions school districts across the state are taking.
Teachers are also concerned about how much of in-person instruction would be spent reminding students to wear masks and keep their distance from one another.
Wendt said younger students will want to come in contact with one another and will have trouble understanding this new classroom dynamic. At the high school level, the contact risk level is increased because teachers and students tend to move around a lot between classrooms.
The teachers association strongly encourages that the district conduct a mock run of a school day or classroom activity to show "how much actual time would have to be devoted to safety protocols and things related to that, as opposed to time on learning," Wendt said.
"I think, without experiencing it firsthand, it's hard to know what that looks like, he said.
Even if the district begins the year with a hybrid model as planned, Wendt said a mock run would at least allow officials to see what obstacles may need to be addressed.