The leaders of both the Fairbanks Education Association and the Education Support Staff Association are asking the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District to upgrade their employment contracts in the area of workplace safety. Each group is asking the school board at a special meeting tonight, Monday, January 11, to address the risks of children returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month the Board of Education approved a plan for allowing public school kids to re-enter school buildings for in-person learning. They will be phased in: elementary kids return January 19, Middle Schoolers on January 25, and High Schoolers on February 1.
But the board’s plan does not require schools to absolutely follow the CDC’s or the state’s Smart Start guidelines for masking, social distancing and hygiene. It asks schools to meet those guidelines only “to the best of their abilities.”
That has the Fairbanks Education Association president, Sandra Ryan, concerned about the safety of teachers who could be exposed to the disease.
“There is just language that needs to be put into place and remind us of some of the great work we’ve already done with the district on protocols in place, that, unfortunately with the current directive from the school board, we’ll be hard-pressed to maintain them.”
FEA, which represents about 900 local teachers, sent the school board a letter, December 23, asking to reopen the contract and negotiate clauses about workplace safety.
Another letter came to the board from the Education Support Staff Association, or ESSA, that represents about 1,500 non-certified educators in the district. Both organizations, along with the Fairbanks Principals Association, negotiated three-year contracts with the district in 2019.
ESSA President Jasmine Adkins-Brown says it will require quick work to negotiate new parts on workplace safety before students show up in eight days (on January 19) but she is ready.
“We are prepared today to sit down with the district today and start those conversations, this limbo-land we are living in right now, is hard on everybody.”
Adkins-Brown says ESSA employees are turning-over at a higher-than-normal rate.
“With our membership we have seen an increase monthly of the turnover rate and resignations, and I think they are directly correlated to COVID."
Adkins-Brown says she’d like to see clauses that would define what employees could expect as the coronavirus moves through their ranks, and what is expected of them if schools are closed temporarily due to high case numbers or staff shortages. If the changes to the contracts are considered significant, they will require a vote of the school board.
Tonight’s school board meeting starts at 6:00 p.m. and the board is likely to go into Executive session, which is typical for discussing labor contracts.