NEWS BRIEF: USD 497 negotiation team meets to discuss hybrid learning

The team hopes lingering questions will be cleared up at the school board meeting Monday

Jack Bellemere, Reporter

The USD 497 negotiation team met Thursday night to lay out plans for a new hybrid learning model. The discussion spanned a range of topics from teacher sick days to tornado drills.

One of the biggest questions surrounding the negotiations was about how administrators planned to protect teachers’ sick leave. Teachers argued that, with new state regulations requiring teachers to quarantine if they experience COVID-19 symptoms, they would run out of sick days unless the district allowed them to teach from home. 

“We’re asking them to burn through their personal leave and their emergency paid sick leave, which doesn’t buy more than 80 hours,” said Megan Epperson, negotiations team co-chair and Broken Arrow music teacher. “I really want to be mindful of our staff members that don’t have those days to burn.”

However, USD 497 Chief Legal Counsel David Cunningham stressed that he couldn’t make any promises about protecting teachers’ paid sick leave.

“I just don’t want to make a blanket promise that that will work in every situation,” Cunningham said.

Another major concern was what guidance the administration would give teachers about curriculum. Several members of the negotiations team stressed the importance of increased social-emotional learning during the pandemic. 

LEA members, however, cautioned that with teachers already experiencing an increased workload this semester, a more rigorous curriculum might not be feasible.

“Every year of education that I can remember, as a student or a teacher, has been ‘raise the bar, raise the bar, raise the bar,’” said Jeff Plinsky, negotiations team co-chair and Lawrence High debate coach. “You have teachers whose entire careers have been about raising the bar. Our concern is that when they hear ‘more social-emotional learning,’ what they hear is ‘all the teaching you have been doing plus more social emotional learning.’”

Administrators acknowledged the teachers’ concerns and stressed that they would work to not put undue burdens on teachers.

Other issues went largely unresolved during the conversation.

Several team members raised concerns about state testing. State law mandates that schools administer state assessments and conduct testing, but none of the negotiators knew how or when those assessments would take place.

LEA representatives were also concerned about a lack of teacher readiness. With only a couple of weeks until hybrid learning is supposed to begin, many teachers still don’t know about the procedures for socially-distanced fire and tornado drills. 

Additionally, with the administration committed to not bring teachers into the schools next week, LEA representatives worried that there was no time to properly acclimate teachers to the new teaching environment.

While the meeting left several issues on the table, participants did clarify that some questions would be cleared up at the school board meeting Monday, Oct. 12.