AFT Local 420 demands changes from St. Louis School Board to address teacher workload, stress during pandemic

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By TIM ROWDEN
Editor

BYRON CLEMENS, spokesman for AFT Local 420, the union representing St. Louis public school teachers and staff, speaks to reporters on Oct. 27, after hand delivering a letter to district officials regarding the stress and working conditions for teachers and staff during the pandemic. – Video screencap

The St. Louis chapter of the American Federation of Teachers Local 420 is accusing the St. Louis Public Schools board of stonewalling, backing out of previous agreements and refusing to compromise so teachers can have adequate time to prepare for classes and are properly compensated amid the many challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ray Cummings, interim president of AFT St. Louis, wrote a letter to the school board last week, listing several measures teachers have asked for and been denied, including prep days to set up classrooms, more sick days and compensation for extra time spent lesson planning for both in-person and virtual classes.

“Our message today for the administration is: The administration is not in charge, the virus is,” AFT spokesman Byron Clemens said after hand-delivering the letter to school district administrators. “Although we’ve worked together and cooperated, there are some things that are giving us concern … and a lot of this is driven by the virus.

“Our members, both teachers and support personnel, are feeling a great deal of stress and anxiety, and they’re overworked,” Clemens said. “One of the agreements we had is that the teachers would work either virtually or in person. We thought we had an agreement about that and then the administration backed off and said, ‘No, they’re doing both in some schools.’ We don’t agree with that.”

COMPENSATION, SPLIT SCHEDULES
Local 420 has asked that teachers be compensated if they are going to be expected to prepare both virtual and online lessons, but the district refused.

Local 420 also wants a split schedule for middle and high schools, where students are split into A and B days for in-person attendance, and all-virtual learning on Wednesdays while schools are cleaned.

Teachers “have faced a colossal burden so far being classified as essential workers that has taken a toll physically, mentally and psychologically on them,” the letter said, adding that they are, “bombarded by the stress and anxiety shared by the public-at-large with the added impact of caring for our students, their own children, families and the community at large.”

UNACCEPTABLE
Clemens said Local 420 has had a productive relationship with the district since March, when the pandemic initially forced schools to close, but recently the administration has taken a “my way or the highway” approach that is unacceptable.

“Our employees need to be taken care of,” Clemens said. “We know our first job is taking care of the children, but we also have to take care of the employees.”

Illinois Federation of Teachers: COVID-19 data sharing
is vital to prevent school outbreaks

Westmont, IL – Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) President Dan Montgomery is praising the Illinois Department of Public Health’s (IDPH)announcement last week that they will be sharing data on COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.

This announcement follows a story by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune detailing the lack of information on infections in schools.

“From the start of the pandemic, IFT has been calling on the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education to provide transparent and accurate data on COVID-19 cases in schools,” Montgomery said.

“As COVID-19 cases surge in Illinois, having comprehensive state and local data to ensure the safety of our educators, staff, and students is imperative,” he said.

“At the IFT, we’ve worked with the Chicago Teachers Union and American Federation of Teachers to develop our own COVID-19 tracker to identify outbreaks and report unsafe working conditions in schools, colleges, and universities. Our tool will give teachers, staff, and parents a voice to monitor what’s happening in their neighborhood schools and help keep them safe,” Montgomery said. “Having timely and accurate information is essential to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and preventing large-scale outbreaks.

“We are glad the IDPH is taking steps to ensure transparency and look forward to working with them so that the most accurate information is available.”

The IFT represents 103,000 teachers and paraprofessionals in Pre-K-to-12 school districts throughout Illinois, faculty and staff at Illinois’ community colleges and universities, public employees and retirees.


 

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