Tentative Agreement On Vaccine Mandate For Belmont Teachers/Staff

Photo: Belmont teachers and staff will be required to be vaccinated if a tentative agreement is approved.

In a joint press release issued Friday afternoon, Sept. 3, representatives of the Belmont School Committee and the local teachers’ union, the Belmont Educators Association, tentatively agreed to mandated vaccinations against the Covid-19 virus for educators and staff working in Belmont’s six public schools.

The agreement, passed on Thursday, Sept. 2, will now go before the full BEA membership and the six member School Committee to be voted on and ratified.

The Belmont School District will also begin the school year with a mask mandate for students and staff.

The provisional deal comes as school’s open in Belmont on Wednesday, Sept. 8, in the midst of a significant surge of the virus due to the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant. Elementary and younger middle school students who can not be vaccinated due to their age are seen as susceptible to either catching or carrying the virus.

The press release also announced the second of” two important health mitigation strategies that will support a safe opening of school” as the Belmont Public Schools is partnering with Cambridge Innovation Center to implement a Routine COVID Safety Checks – formerly known as Routine COVID Pooled Testing – and a “Test and Stay” close contact testing protocol.

Routine COVID safety checks is when shallow nasal swab samples are collected at school and put into a single tube. If a group tests positive, individual follow-up testing with a second sample collection occurs at the school with BinaxNOW and/or individual PCR testing, as necessary.

Test and stay protocol is for students and staff who may have been exposed to COVID-19 while in school. Test and Stay allows students and staff who were exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19 at school to remain in school as long as they have no symptoms. Instead of missing school, these students and staff will be administered a daily BinaxNOW rapid test at school. They will continue to quarantine outside of the school day. Students and staff participate in Test and Stay for a minimum of five days after they may have been exposed. 

A health bulletin from the school district’s nursing staff with more information on pool testing, test and stay, testing consent forms, etc., with links to the new symptom checker will be sent to you early next week, Sept. 12.

Statement: Belmont Education Association Addresses Its Approach To Teaching In COVID

Photo: The logo of the Belmont Education Association

In the past year as the Belmont School District has been adapting long-standing standards of learning and teaching in response to a once-in-a-century pandemic, one group consciously quiet during that time has been the teachers and staff and their labor representative, the Belmont Education Association.

As the School Committee and district administration has been the face of the ever-changing strategies to mitigate COVID-19 in Belmont’s six schools while keeping learning a priority, teachers have been in the background, only rarely breaking their vow of silence as parents and students began questioning educators and the BEA for being perceived as obstacles to the return of students to the classroom.

But in a response to a series of questions – they can be found at the bottom of the article – from the Belmontonian, the union issued a statement addressed the reasons behind its approach to teaching in a time of pandemic and discussing its view on key issues facing teachers and the union moving forward.

The Belmont Education Association statement:

A year ago, the Belmont Public Schools and the Belmont Education Association entered into a collaborative process to address issues related to instruction during a pandemic. Health & Safety, Social-Emotional Well-being, and Academic Engagement were our shared priorities for remote and then hybrid learning. Belmont’s options were limited as we faced the lean resources of space and personnel to operate safely in person. As educators, lacking statewide guidance, certainty, and evolving recommendations, we worked through interest-based conversations for eight months to effectively make decisions. This changed in November when we entered into formal bargaining. Formal bargaining forced us to work through all the issues in a tight timeframe with little opportunity to understand our myriad and changing interests and priorities and no chance to pilot our ideas.

As a union, our approach has always been to increase transparency and partner with the community to support our students. Our requests for open bargaining (inviting all community members to attend negotiations) are consistently rejected, so we sought other opportunities to connect with parents through PTOs and community forums. Transparency and mutual understanding are important for all constituent groups moving forward. We are committed to an approach that includes all community members in a conversation about what is best for the Belmont Public Schools.  

At times it’s tempting to see the union as one person, but in reality, it is the school employees – union members whom parents see every day – who are the decision-makers. Members actively guide and determine our positions. We have expanded transparency and improved internal conversations by including ever more teachers, administrators, administrative assistants, and professional aides in bargaining. We understand that this has not been the same experience for parents. In retrospect, we should have included members of the Belmont School Committee and parent community in our Joint Labor-Management Committee meetings.

Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize CDC guidance for ventilation, correct use of masks, and physical distancing (at least six feet) as the most important mitigation measures for in-person learning.  Surveillance testing and vaccines are also essential considerations as we expand in-person learning. We remain committed to our students and each other’s Health & Safety, Social-Emotional Well-being, and Academic Engagement. 

Questions submitted to the Belmont Education Association

1. The CDC has stated “K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.” When will the BEA consider Belmont schools “safe” for full-time in-school learning? Is it when all the measures in the CDC roadmap or some other matrix to reopening schools are met? Why is it taking so long to reach these goals?
2. How important is teachers’ vaccination to meeting the level of a “safe” workplace?
3. Are attempts to reduce the six-foot social distance requirement a “deal-breaker”? 
4. The school district has created a working group – the Return to In-Person Learning Group – to make recommendations and a plan to bring all students back to school full-time. Is this the correct approach to take or would the BEA accept a more direct, faster approach from the superintendent or school committee to open schools?
5. The level of animus with some parents/residents towards the BEA and some teachers have reached a level last seen when teachers called a work action in 1995. “Why does the BEA have so much power”, “The town should follow science and not the union” and “There needs to be a lockout of the teachers union” are just a few comments on a popular Facebook page. Those parents believe the BEA is the chief impediment to full-time, in-school learning in the district, either by slow-walking negotiations or being overly cautious. 1). What misconceptions do these parents have of the union’s position/power in returning students to school full-time? 2. Do you believe it was the right approach to remain silent to the public – not on negotiations with the school committee but on general views of teaching during a pandemic? 3). Do you believe that the BEA will need to reach out to parents/residents to work towards improving the relationship it had pre-pandemic?

Letter To The Editor: Belmont Educators Disagree With Return To In-Person Learning

Photo:

To the editor:

The members of the Belmont Education Association have spent the past six months balancing the needs of our students- their health and safety needs, their academic needs and their social and emotional needs- against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic

On Oct. 7, the BEA was  made aware of numerous inconsistencies, errors, and omissions in the report completed by BALA, the contractor hired by the school district to assess air exchanges in school buildings.  

Based on the failings of the report, the BEA adamantly disagrees with the district’s decision to enter Phase 2, and educators feel obligated to share our concerns with parents.

BALA’s direct measurements show that most classrooms do not have sufficient air exchange (ACH 5) in line with the Harvard University recommended standard that Belmont would need to meet. Assumptions that open windows and air purifiers could raise classroom air exchange to an acceptable level may, in the end, prove correct. However, BALA’s current report has numerous instances which call into question the validity of the report. For example, multiple interior rooms, which have no windows are listed as having substantial improvements once windows are taken into account. 

Furthermore, there are spaces across the district where no data has been provided at all and are omitted from the report and there are other spaces that are mislabeled. The district is working to rectify this situation, and BALA returned to Belmont this week to reassess spaces to make corrections to their report.

Our community made a commitment not to send students into the buildings until spaces used by students and staff were safe. On Wednesday, the BEA requested that the district delay the start of Phase 2 until the community has  a complete report. The Belmont Public Schools  made the determination that schools were safe and began Phase 2 on Thursday. The short notice and concern for the social-emotional well-being of our students forced us to make a difficult decision to return to our classrooms without assurances that they are safe.

John Sullivan

President, Belmont Education Association

Educators Support Belmont Families And Children

Photo: The logo of the Belmont Education Association

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the Belmont Education Association announced the donation of $2,000 to a pair of organizations supporting families and children in need.

The donation was split evenly between ​The Belmont Food Pantry and ​Massachussetts Child​, a charitable corporation created by the Massachusetts Teachers Association to provide funds to local associations in order to help students in need.

“We recognize the impact that the pandemic has had on the Belmont community and we are happy to contribute what we can,” said John Sullivan, BEA president.

“We are all affected by the harsh reality of this virus,” he said. “We hope our donations can contribute to the well-being and safety of our students and families in the Belmont community.”

Teachers Holding Public Forum Wednesday On What Belmont Wants From Schools

Photo: The Belmont Education Association

Educators to Belmont: What do you want?

The Belmont Education Association – which represents the educators and staff in the Belmont School District – is seeking input from residents on what is important about education in the public schools at a public forum on Wednesday, Nov. 6 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. at the Belmont High School library.

What will be discussed is:

  • What does the community value about Belmont public schools, and
  • What would it like to see changed.

This input will help inform the BEA’s upcoming negotiations for a new three year contract.

To sign up for the meeting, or to respond to the questions online if you cannot attend, go to: https://masstea.ch/belmontforum

BEA Scholarship Awarded To Student Who Recognizes HS Educator As Inspiration

Photo: Belmont High’s Ciara Lally (left) will major in Elementary Education at Merrimack College this fall.

The Belmont Education Association awarded its annual scholarship to Ciara Lally at Belmont High’s Senior Awards Assembly in May.

The scholarship was created to support a graduating senior who has been inspired to pursue a career in education by one of his or her Belmont Public Schools educators. Donations from BEA members help to sustain the scholarship.

Lally was motivated by Belmont High teacher Erin McCarthy to pursue a career in education.

“I met Ms. McCarthy freshman year of high school; she has been with me for all four years of my high school career. Being a teacher has always been a thought in my head since I was a little kid. I’m very grateful for everyone that has helped me along the years and it has made me want to help kids that are struggling. I want to be able to show them they are capable of,” said Lally who will attend Merrimack College this fall majoring in Elementary Education.

“With her help, I learned to be a determined student and what I was actually capable of. I want to be an elementary school teacher because I love to work with children and I want to help them to be the best they can,” said Lally.

“One day I hope I can help my students to achieve their goals like I have achieved mine.”  

Belmont Education Association Holds Forum On State Ed Funding Reform

Photo: Merrie Najimy, Barbara Barry, and Lindi DeLorio discuss improving education by recalculating the formula to calculate state educational aid.

A major component of the Massachusetts education reform law past in 1993 known as Chapter 70 was the state’s “foundation budget” formula, used to determine the cost of educating students in each district.

But for many, the more than a quarter-century old formula is now badly out of date.

On Thursday, Feb. 28, the Belmont Education Association held a Fund Our Future Forum at the Chenery Middle School with Cliff Gallant, a teacher at Burbank Elementary, leading a panel discussion on the foundation budget formula. According to a 2015 report by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, the state is underfunding our public schools by more than $1 billion a year. Of that total, Belmont would receive $3,5 million in additional annual funding. 

Butler Elementary teacher Lindi DeLorioChenery parent Barbara Barry, Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy and Vice President Max Page discussed the improved opportunities for our students which could be provided with the additional state funds to support class sizes, music, and art programs. Funds could also be used to provide needed staff such as classroom aides, nurses, counselors and librarians.

Finally: Teachers, Educators Ratify Three-Year Contract With School Committee

Photo: The BEA is Belmont’s largest employee union with 500 members.

The members of three of four bargaining units of the Belmont Education Association have this month ratified new three-year contracts with the Belmont School Committee, all retroactive to September 2017, the start of the current school year. The new contract comes four months after the two sides told the public they had reached a tentative agreement.

The contract will cover approximately 500 union members, of which 330 are teachers and educators in Belmont’s six public schools and those working in the district. The BEA employee contract is the largest in the town; at $26.2 million in fiscal year 2018, it just under half of the school budget of $53.0 million. 

Only Unit C, which represents approximately 18 administrative assistants and secretaries, remains unresolved. John Sullivan, the association’s president, said the members “should vote in the next month.”

Sullivan said educators in Unit A, which is made up of teachers, will receive an annual 2 percent cost of living adjustment under the terms of the contract. There is also “improved language in the areas of teaching and learning,” he noted. 

The MOAs of the three units are below:

BREAKING: Teachers’ Union, School Committee Reach Tentative Contract Agreement

Photo: Belmont Education Association logo.

After working without a contract for the past two and a half months, representatives from the union representing Belmont’s teachers and the School Committee told the Belmontonian they had reached a tentative multi-year contract.

While attorneys for both sides are hammering out the final wording, a contract will be presented to the union membership and the school committee members “soon,” said John Phelan, superintendent of the Belmont School District.

“We have come to an agreement,” said John Sullivan, president of the Belmont Education Association on Tuesday night.

A joint press release will be issued with the contract’s details including salary and benefits “before Thanksgiving.”

The contract will cover approximately 500 union members, of which 330 are teachers and educators in Belmont’s six public schools and those working in the district. The BEA employee contract is the largest in the town; at $26.2 million in fiscal year 2018, it just under half of the school budget of $53.0 million. 

The last three-year contract between teachers and the town ended on Aug. 31, just days before the school year began.

Sources said the delay in forming a contract was due to benefits and added responsibilities being asked of educators rather than salaries.

 

Belmont Educators Come Out In Mass To Support Contract Negotiations

Photo: Kristen Bell speaking before the School Committee and her colleagues.

Approximately 125 teachers and educators jammed into the Community Room at the Chenery Middle School Tuesday night, Sept 26, to demonstrate its support of its union – the Belmont Education Association – before the Belmont School Committee as the two sides attempt to hammer out a multi-year contract in the next month.

“As educators and union members … we stand with our negotiators in support of our vision of the schools our students deserve,” said Kristen Bell, a first-grade teacher at the Wellington, Belmont resident and an official with the union, who spoke before a sea of colleagues in red T-shirts and school committee members during its scheduled meeting.

The past contract between teachers and the town ended on Aug. 31, just days before the school year began.

The BEA and the school committee have two remaining agreed-to negoitating sessions to resolve salary and benefit differences and craft a contract for the 500 union members, of which 330 are teachers in Belmont’s six public schools.

Bell said the union is seeking to:

  • Ensure curriculum-based learning is free from distractions and excessive mandates.
  • Allow time for educators to think, plan and collaborate in meaningful ways.
  • Provide educators the appropriate level of influence over decisions with their schools.
  • Maintain consistent and qualified instructional coverage for students, and 
  • Ensure the town continues to attract and maintain “exemplary educators.” 

While neither side would reveal how far apart they remain on wages and benefits, the union and school committee have only encouraging words about the talks. School committee members and teachers greeted each other with smiles and the amenity of friends. 

“We have faith and hope [the school committee] will reach agreement before the end of October,” said Bell. 

In a statement from the School Committee, Chair Lisa Fiore said she was glad to hear that the BEA supports the work on both sides.

“As with all union negotiations, the balance we always try to strike is supporting our educators and being accountable to our taxpayers,” she said.