Amherst union: District’s safety protocols lack transparency

  • Fort River Elementary in Amherst.

Staff Writer
Monday, April 05, 2021

AMHERST — The union representing teachers and staff for the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools wants better transparency about the safety protocols that will be in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19 in public schools once schools reopen next week.

With elementary schools to reopen on April 5, and more than 70% of students expected back, the Amherst Pelham Education Association issued a statement in advance of Tuesday’s Amherst School Committee meeting expressing concern that recent health and safety guidelines released are not in compliance with an arrangement reached last fall.

“Many of these go against the agreed-upon safety measures between the School Committee and the APEA,” the statement reads. “The School Committee has continued to state that these agreed-upon safety measures will be followed. However, the safety guidelines given to staff are very different.”

One major concern for the union is that families may not be notified if there is a positive COVID-19 case in a building, unless a child is considered to have been in close contact with the individual who tested positive. The agreement, however, states that “all staff and student parent(s)/guardian(s) of a school will be told if any student or staff have had a positive test result.”

But according to a letter that was sent to families Monday from Superintendent Michael Morris and Robbin Suprenant, the nursing leader for the schools, notification will be made to all.

“All staff and families will be notified of a positive case in their school, regardless of whether they are a close contact or not,” the letter reads.

Contact tracing protocols are also consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidance.

“We have full confidence in our nurses, who have been trained on this process, have participated with the town on contact tracing, and who developed these school-based protocols, to implement contact tracing with fidelity to keep our community safe,” the letter states.

Other areas where the union worries safety may be compromised includes maskless elementary-age children from different classes mixing at recess and not staying 6 feet apart, sharing of scissors and markers for class projects that might only be sanitized at the end of the school day, and allowing small groups of students and staff in rooms with no windows.

The union is also critical of the district giving up on so-called “pooled testing” to prevent community spread of infection by quickly identifying if someone has COVID-19.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s office released a report Monday saying the program has tested 159,000 individuals in 22,679 pools with a pool positivity rate of 0.76%. More than 1,000 schools are enrolled in the COVID-19 pooled testing initiative, and more than 329,000 students, educators and staff are eligible to be tested on a weekly basis.

The letter to families from Morris and Suprenant also notes that elementary classrooms have been set up to ensure 6 feet of distance between students: “We will continue to work with staff, families, and students as we reopen to resolve any concerns or issues as they emerge.”