A pair of school staff members approached the Groton Board of Education on Oct. 19 to state their apprehensions towards their well-being in terms of contracting COVID-19 when working on site.
Scott Weeks, Vice President of the Groton Faculty Association (GFA), spoke first during the public comment period, sharing the GFA’s sentiments on behalf of the association.
“We are aware that during the prior Board of Education meeting it was asked if staff had concerns regarding COVID-19,” Weeks said. “We are here to assure you that there is in fact a measure of teacher and student concern around COVID-19 and also compliance with COVID-19 regulations and procedures. Also, we feel that at this point extra accommodations would be appropriate for some individuals.”
Adam Berkowitz, a math teacher at the Junior/Senior High School, spoke after Weeks and expressed concerns about completing work in “the hub,” which is a single-room setting with 10 to 11 teachers working there. Berkowitz said not everyone there abides by the school’s health and safety guidelines, namely mask wearing and social distancing – and fears he will contract the virus and spread it to either his students, colleagues or his wife, who he said has an underlying health condition that puts her at a higher risk of a severe infection.
“I don’t feel safe in the hub,” Berkowtiz said. “It’s given me a lot of anxiety to be in there. I think about it when I’m not in there. I’ve lost sleep over it.”
He particularly worries about contracting the virus and spreading it to his coworkers because that would result in them quarantining for two weeks and thus prompting the school to close.
“I don’t see being able to stay open if 10 to 11 had to quarantine for two [weeks], but I could be wrong,” he said. “That’s just my conjecture, so there’s no evidence in that. I don’t think it would be good to have 10 to 11 teachers quarantine when it could have been avoided.”
Berkowitz said he has requested completing any work in a separate classroom to his superiors, but was denied. He said he feels like he is being forced to do something that he is uncomfortable with doing.
“With the hub, I feel that it’s an additional 10 to 11 staff members that I interact with in the same room, sets an additional 10 to 11 possible direct exposures as well as the students that they teach, which are different than the students that I teach,” he said.
Even though he has been told that hub-related work needs to be completed in a collaborative setting with his colleagues, Berkowitz said he and the other 10 to 11 teachers are capable of doing such work together virtually.
“Since the pandemic started, companies around the world have had to figure out how to make do without being in the same room,” he said. “Teachers were no exception. We had to put together – within a few days notice – we had to put together completely online learning plans. At first, it was a little bit rocky, but we’ve gotten better and better in the last six months. I’ve personally picked up numerous new digital skills. I know my fellow teachers have as well. … I know that as teachers we can come together and collaborate on the computer without being in the same room.”
Following Berkowtiz’s allotted time to share his comments, the BOE did not respond to what he said, though President Sophia Darling said, on behalf of the board, that it appreciates his comments and thanked him for coming to the board to speak to everyone directly.