Teachers’ Union Says it was ‘Blindsided’ by April 1 Haverhill School Return, Calls Date Arbitrary

Electrostatic “germ blaster” displayed during a previous Haverhill School Committee meeting. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The union representing teachers and other educators said it was “blindsided” by last Thursday’s proposal that the Haverhill school department come up with a plan to return to in-person learning April 1. (See previous WHAV story.)

Haverhill Education Association President Anthony J. Parolisi told WHAV school staff was especially surprised by Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s idea since the topic wasn’t mentioned just hours earlier during a meeting of the Joint Stakeholder Coronavirus Task Force. That group, which includes union members, parents, administrators and medical professionals, meets weekly to consider virus-related responses.

“It wasn’t on the agenda for discussion so I don’t know how many School Committee members knew that he planned to bring that up, but at any rate we were blindsided by it. To make matters worse, it came at a time during the meeting when most of the public—you guys (WHAV) were still covering it faithfully—but HC Media had issues with their feed so, if you were watching it on television, or on the internet, you didn’t even see the discussion on the motion,” he said.

School Committee members voted 6-1, with Toni Sapienza-Donais opposed, to ask Superintendent Margaret Marotta to devise a plan for full return to school buildings in April. Fiorentini did offer a disclaimer during the meeting that the School Committee could still reject the plan once details are presented. Parolisi sad the mayor’s verbal footnote came in response to the union president’s simultaneous online objection that the proposal is “insane” and not based on a previously agreed upon metric.

Parolisi emphasized the union supports developing plans to return to in-person learning, but opposes “arbitrary” dates without answers to a variety of questions.

“What would that entail? One, that would mean getting teachers vaccinated. Two, that would mean community spread continues to decline. Three, that would mean we hire more staff. We fill the open positions we currently have and then hire more staff so that we can maintain proper, safe distancing,” he explained.

The union has previously filed a grievance over not having an agreed-upon metric to help decide when in-person, remote or hybrid learning should take place. It also voted no confidence in the School Committee which, Parolisi said, has had a positive effect on shaping policy and ensuring safety.

“One, we felt vindicated. The numbers after Thanksgiving, after the Christmas break and after New Year’s seemed to suggest that we did the right thing. Community spread was high, renewed remote. People stayed safe, conditions began to improve and now, here we are, in hybrid,” he said.

Last week, the School Committee also decided students who take part in spring sports programs must be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis. The adjusted sports season is scheduled to continue at the end of February.

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