As Hybrid Learning Begins, Union Brings Reopening Concerns Directly to Haverhill School Committee

Educators protesting in August 2020 in front of Haverhill City Hall were Barbara Freeman, Elizabeth Briggs and Barry Davis. (WHAV News file photograph.)

In-school learning, the “hybrid model,” begins today and, despite massive efforts on the part of the school administration to ensure a safe learning environment, there is still some trepidation about returning, even among teachers.

Haverhill Education Association President Anthony J. Parolisi read an impassioned statement at the start of Thursday night’s School Committee meeting, saying many teachers are still concerned about returning to their classrooms.

“Despite the best and most honorable intentions of the superintendent and her team, the Haverhill Education Association has serious concerns that the Haverhill Public Schools simply aren’t ready to bring students back into the building at this time. There was no reason to require staff to return to the buildings last Friday, nor any reason for us to have been there this week for the start of remote learning,” he said.

The union head’s remarks follow a strongly worded letter the rank and file authorized following last Wednesday’s first day of school. The letter said “the upper administration, School Committee and Mayor (James J.) Fiorentini are incapable of safely and productively opening and running Haverhill Public Schools in a hybrid model at this time.”

Fiorentini took exception to Parolisi’s comments, saying he and the school superintendent firmly believe the schools are ready to open. He laid the blame for any anxiety on the part of teachers on the union president himself.

“Of course teachers are stressed. They’re told by their own union leadership that if they enter a building, it’s unsafe, that they might die. They have a union leadership who put coffins and shoes on the steps of city hall to try and frighten little children into not coming to school. Of course, teachers are stressed,” the mayor said.

The union’s earlier letter said “No buildings and classrooms have a certificate declaring the air quality safe for occupancy at any level,” “a ‘deep cleaning’ was not completed before Sept. 11 as promised, the Wednesday ‘remote learning day’ for all students still has no clear structure or set of expectations for either staff or students” and “proper training has not been provided on how to teach remote and in-person students simultaneously,” among other concerns.

Regarding cleaning and maintenance issues, the union wrote, “Problems observed included nonfunctioning windows, improper carpet cleaning, rodent droppings on the classroom floor, sinks not draining or turning on, classrooms not swept, water damage on ceiling tiles, dusty air vents, trash with food from summer school, and univents dismantled or not functioning. One teacher discovered a dead bat in the classroom that had begun to rot.”

For their parts, the School Committee members were somewhat divided. Committee member Toni Sapienza Donais said teachers have told her they feel their concerns are not being heard or addressed by the Committee.

Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr., however, said he visited Haverhill High School recently, walking through every classroom, and found all had been cleaned with plenty of hand sanitizer and air purifiers available.

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