-January 16, 2021
District transparency is critical during the pandemic to provide a sense of security to stressed and fearful teachers, and most importantly to ensure that students and employees are kept safe and protected. Many teachers continue to report that they are being asked to work in unsafe conditions in classrooms packed with so many students that adequate social distancing is impossible. Some are not seeing their classrooms, shared items and restrooms cleaned as required. Others state that the cafeterias are super-spreader events, arrival and departure areas are too crowded, and congested hallway passing times are also a concern.
Teachers continue to protest the District’s continued and seemingly deliberate lack of transparency. Policies and procedures detailed in the District’s Covid-19 Health and Safety Procedures Manual may look good on paper, but unless they are followed, they are meaningless. OCCTA is hearing that at too many schools these procedures are paper rules and are not actually put into action.
OCCTA also remains concerned with the inaccurate OCPS Covid-19 dashboard, which is also not transparent. There are worksites and schools that have never been listed on the dashboard, such as some alternative sites and sites that house itinerant personnel including learning community offices, Fort Gatlin and other sites. The teachers at these worksites and schools have no way of knowing if there are positive cases at their worksites. Many schools and worksites are hidden under such labels as: “Alternative Education”, “Communications Division”, “Curriculum and Digital Learning”, “ESE Transition School”, “Other”, Teaching and Learning” and more. There are currently 166 schools and worksites that are not identified by their specific names, but are hidden under obscure labels on the OCPS dashboard.
OCPS has refused to correct the dashboard, even after OCCTA made numerous requests since September 2020. The District has violated the December 8, 2020 MOU which states that the District will provide OCCTA with a weekly update unless the information is provided on the OCPS dashboard. OCCTA filed a grievance, which you can read at this link.)
Below is one request sent to the District attempting to clarify dashboard information:
Teachers report that they are notified of positive cases by a call or email, but they do not appear on the dashboard until days after the notification. Some claim that the cases never appeared. Teachers have also reported that they were never notified of positive cases in their own classroom. OCCTA learned at the Joint Safety Committee meeting on January 14, 2021 that OCPS only reports cases and quarantines that are “OCPS specific”, according to Rowland Welch who oversees the dashboard. He stated, “The individual must be on campus within the last 30 days and tested positive to show up on the dashboard.” He further stated all quarantines are school or site specific. He said that if you get quarantined due to Thanksgiving, a family event or being at a bar concert, it will not show up on the dashboard. You must have been at an OCPS facility.
OCCTA has repeatedly requested that correct information be uploaded in a timely manner and that the dashboard’s worksites be labeled correctly by specific name. The District refuses not only to correct the dashboard, but also has not responded to our email requests to explain dashboard discrepancies and errors. Except for an incomplete and inaccurate response sent on December 23, 2021, we have had no replies and no acknowledgements to all other inquiries.
Even more disturbing, is the fact that the District revealed that they do not pay Covid leave for employees who did not contact Covid-19 at their school or worksite. At the Joint Safety Committee Meeting on January 14, 2021 (Read the Safety Committee Meeting Minutes at this link), it was revealed that the District will pay for leave only if the employee was exposed to Covid-19 at their workplace. This is an amazing statement from a District who continually has proclaimed that there is no in-school spread!
At the Safety Committee meeting several district personnel said if there is no positive case at the school or worksite, it is assumed the employee contracted the virus off campus. As an example, Mr. Preusser claimed there was a situation where an employee admitted to being at a party with 70 or so people and got Covid at party. He stated that was reckless behavior and asked, “Is it the union’s position that we pay?” He claimed that in discussions with an employee, the employee told us, “It was my fault. I did something outside of school and I’m Covid positive.” He said, “That individual would not get paid leave for a bad decision. That has happened a couple times.”
To be clear, there is nothing in our agreement that states that an employee must have contracted the virus at school or their worksite to be given paid Covid-19 leave. The point of paid Covid-19 leave is to keep the employee healthy, and to ensure that the students and employees at the worksite stay safe and healthy by keeping the infected person quarantined. Individuals who used up all of their sick and personal days and will not be given paid leave to quarantine or isolate, may decide to report to work, rather than lose income. This could put everyone at risk.
If you test positive, you should submit a positive test. You do not have to make a declaratory statement to an administrator or other District personnel as to where or how you may have caught Covid-19 unless you want to state that you contracted the virus at school. And, of course, with so many cases of students and others reported as asymptomatic, even if there was no positive case reported at your school or worksite, you certainly may have caught it there. This is especially true for those who go from home to work and no other places. The discussion about where you contracted Covid-19 is for the FLDOH contact tracer and should be kept confidential. Of course, you may (and should) inform your school/worksite administrator or District administrator of the identities of individuals at your school or worksite that you were in contact with so that they can inform them that they were exposed. That is all the information you should need to provide.
OCCTA requested the number of members in our bargaining unit who have had to use their own sick or personal leave to pay for Covid-19 related leave. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have had to use your own leave for Covid-related absences so we can see if we can get a leave reimbursement.
OCCTA also learned at the Joint Safety Committee Meetings that the District is violating more provisions of the December 8, 2021 MOU. The MOU states:
The parties mutually agree as follows:
"The COVID-19 Health and Safety Procedures Manual version 8.0 (effective September 12, 2020) is hereby adopted and incorporated to this MOU as if fully set forth herein. In the event of a conflict between this Memorandum of Understanding and the COVID-19 Health and Safety Procedures Manual, this Memorandum of Understanding shall prevail. The parties understand the COVID-19 Health and Safety Procedures Manual may be amended as needed for legitimate operational needs by the School Board. The OCCTA will be given prior notice for a meet and confer opportunity. The OCCTA will have ten (10) days for input prior to any amendment to the Health and Safety Procedures Manual through the contractual Joint Safety Committee, established in the CBA, Article II, M(6)(b)(2)."
At the December 10, 2020 Joint Safety Committee Meeting, OCCTA stated we were not given notice on the most recent updates being discussed, which were proposed changes to the manual. LeighAnn Blackmore stated, “The MOU says we will confer, not that the District has to accept any suggestions.”
The District leaders obviously have no intention of considering OCCTA’s input. In fact, they have no intention of even going through the motions of hearing our opinion before they institute their unilateral changes.
On January 5, 2021, Blackmore sent OCCTA the proposed changes to the safety manual, which called for reducing the quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days. OCCTA’s position paper is at this link). Based on research and the opinion of respected medical experts, OCCTA opposed reducing quarantine days to provide maximum protection for teachers, student and all staff. Even the CDC stated that a 14-day quarantined period was ideal.
The OCCTA opposition report was presented at the Safety Committee on January 14, 2021 and also sent in an email to District personnel. However, OCCTA learned at that meeting that the 10-day quarantine period had already been put in place by the District even before OCCTA was given the chance to concur, as is required by the agreement. This was confirmed by LeighAnn Blackmore and Rowland Welch. Since the District action violated our agreement, OCCTA filed a grievance on Saturday, January 16, 2021. (Read it at this link )