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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin, April 11, 2021

Updated: May 3, 2021

When will it end!? How many more changes must we endure? And now, in this email, I am going to ask you to pay particular attention to planning that is happening now for changes in the fall, even though most of you are so deeply engaged in adapting to the changes you are implementing now (elementary) or planning for (middle and high). It's exhausting! That is what I hear most often: it is just exhausting. Here is what is coming, and what we must consider next. Please note that, as you will see, NTA members have an important role in these decisions for the fall.

Spring and Fall Planning

On Wednesday, David Fleishman sent staff an email outlining plans for reopening high schools to full in person learning after April break and summarizing fall reopening plans. I would like to provide a few more details about the role of the NTA in both decisions.

Spring Expansion of High School in Person Learning Time. About David’s announced decision to expand high school in person learning time, I have little to add except that it is the district’s prerogative to do so, and this does not need to be negotiated. The approach the district is taking will have the least possible impact on the high school schedule, including planning and collaboration time on Wednesdays. For this reason, the NTA is not in negotiations with the district on the impact of this change. If it turns out there are more significant changes (e.g., DESE require five day a week in person learning), we would negotiate the impact of these changes. Fall Planning—New High School Schedule and Late Start Time David Fleishman convened a Fall Planning Team that comprised community members representing a number of stakeholders, members of the NTA leadership team, and members of the central administration, including David. The team was chaired by School Committee vice-chair Emily Prenner. School Committee member Tamika Olzsewski also participated. The NTA members on the planning group were: Mike Zilles, President; Jamie Rinaldi, Newton South, Negotiations Chair; Chris Walsh, Second Release Officer; Elizabeth Ross del Porto, Angier, First Vice President; Elizabeth Simpson, Oak Hill, Second Vice President; Michael Burtch, Bigelow, Negotiations; Nicole Franchi, Newton North, Special Education; and Amy Winston, Newton North, Vice Principal. The team met last Tuesday and voted unanimously to recommend that the start and end times of the elementary, middle, and high schools be changed in the following manner:

  • A ten minute shift earlier in both start and end times for middle and elementary schools

  • A shift of the start time in high school to 9:05 and the end time to 3:50—with some possibility that this time could be shifted to 9:00 to 3:45, bus schedules permitting

  • High schools return to Tuesdays for early release and meetings/collaboration

  • Elementary and Middle schools shift permanently to Wednesdays for early release and meetings/collaboration

The start and end times would be: Pre-Covid Student start and end times

Level Start Time MWRF End Time MWRF

High 7:40/7:50 1:55/3:20

Middle 8:00-8:30 2:30-3:00

Elementary 8:20 3:00

Level Start Time Tuesday End Time Tuesday

High 7:40/7:50 1:55/2:35

Middle 8:00-8:30 1:45-2:15

Elementary 8:20 12:30

Recommended student start and end times, Fall 2021

Level Start Time MWRF End Time MWRF

High 9:05 3:50

Middle 7:50-8:20 2:20-2:50

Elementary 8:10 2:50

Level Start Time Tue/Wed End Time Tue/Wed

High 9:05** 3:30 (2:35)

Middle 7:50*-8:20 1:35-2:05

Elementary 8:10 12:20

There could be minor adjustments to these times based on bus availability/scheduling. Two next steps: The NTA leadership on the Fall Planning Team voted as stakeholders in the planning process, alongside the other stakeholders on the team. This was not a negotiation. But this recommendation does touch on, in different ways, areas that are subject to negotiations. These are important to note, as they bear on members' voice, and how that is part of the decision. There is a difference between the NTA's role in the Planning Team, and its role in negotiations. On the Planning Team, the NTA, along with other stakeholders, made a recommendation to the School Committee as one stakeholder among many. In negotiations, the NTA and School Committee are partners bargaining over provisions of our units A, B, C, D and E collective bargaining agreements. The recommended shift in start times and the change to the high school schedule touch on our collective bargaining agreement in two ways. High School Joint Oversight Committee The agreements we reached with the School Committee in December, 2019, put in place a process for changing the high school schedule. That agreement gave a specific charge and responsibilities to the High School Joint Oversight Committee, a labor/management committee, as below: (From Time and Learning Agreement) The High School Joint Oversight Committee (HSJOC) will convene for the purpose of overseeing implementation of the Agreement and resolving related problems. Prior to implementing the new schedule, the HSJOC shall:

  • By majority vote determine whether and when to implement the new high school schedule. Said implementation shall occur no sooner than September 2021.

  • To account for unanticipated contingencies, make minor modifications to the proposed schedule.

  • Present recommendations on the organization and administration of flexible learning time.

  • Create guidelines for part-time educators regarding duties, responsibilities during flex time, Tuesday afternoon meeting time, and professional half days.

  • Bring clarity to what counts as an academic duty.

  • Assess and make recommendations regarding the translation of courses that currently meet 2 days per week to the new schedule format.

(The full text of the Time and Learning Agreement can be found in the 2019-2020 MOA between the School Committee and the NTA, pages 7-10.) The HSJOC committee had been scheduled to meet for a full day on March 12, 2020, but we cancelled that meeting as COVID approached. We have now scheduled two meetings to continue the work we had nearly completed in the spring of 2020. So that work, as required by the contract, will proceed forward. The second area that is subject to collective bargaining is the start time in elementary schools.

Contractual start time The Elementary Time and Learning Agreements in the Units A and B contract specify that elementary school classroom instruction begins at 8:35, with students free to enter classrooms at 8:20. (We were working slightly out of compliance for the last couple of years, as students were arriving at 8:20, but instruction was beginning at 8:30.) All of the changes the district is contemplating to start and end times at the different levels is a really a giant jigsaw puzzle, with all of the pieces needing to fit together. In order to change the elementary school start time, we must negotiate changed language with the School Committee, and we must present that change to our membership for a ratification vote. But because of the interlocking complexity of these changes, none of them are possible unless all of them are possible. All of the pieces must fall in place. So although the NTA leaders on the Superintendent’s Fall Planning Team voted to recommend all of these changes as stakeholders in that group, the NTA membership has equal authority with the School Committee to ultimately decide on whether to approve these changes. We will present one small change to you for ratification—the change in elementary start time--but on that change will hinge all of these other changes.

So you really need to know, why is NTA leadership recommending these changes, both to the School Committee, as part of the Fall Planning Team, and to you our members, as a negotiated agreement to change the contract? You are going to be asked to vote on this issue. Let me break this down into sub questions. Why did the NTA leaders on the Planning Team recommend this change for your ratification?

  • First and foremost, the NTA leadership on the Planning Team voted on changes that they saw best served student social and emotional well-being. Educators and parents have seen the difference a later start time has made for students this year. They have also seen that a schedule that is built on long blocks can work well. Going back to an older start and end time, and a more stressful fast paced schedule, just does not, in our judgement, make sense.

  • The district is making careful effort to minimize the impact of the changes to high school start and end time at the other levels. No doubt the ten minute changes to start and end time at elementary and middle will present challenges, but the district has made a conscientious effort to make these as manageable as possible.

  • We were convinced that the challenges presented by a late end time for high school are surmountable…with efforts already underway to resolve them.

  • For all of the pain and suffering COVID inflected, it did provide a chance to try out changes to high school start time and the high school schedule that proved to be very positive. We won't be positioned like this again. If we don't make these changes now, we likely won't in the future. If we are to make changes, this is the time.

  • If ever there will be a year that students need social and emotional relief, next year will be one of those years. We should not delay.

Why did the Negotiations Team put in place a process to change the schedule for high schools in the December 2019 MOA ratified by membership?

  • We negotiated important changes to other parts of the High School Time and Learning Agreement which will only be put in place if there is a new schedule.

  • We won greater equity among high school special education, ELL, and engineering teachers, and general education teachers, equalizing the required maximum number of blocks each teach at four.

  • We won a reduction in the overall length of the average high school day by over 20 minutes per day. Under the old schedule, Newton had some of the longest high school days in the state.

  • The new schedule, even though shorter in length, provides increased embedded time for clubs, academic support and social emotional support for students.

  • The schedule balances those activities with slightly reduced overall academic class time--though still well within state mandated guidelines for the required amount of "structured learning time."

Why both a new schedule and a new start time? Can’t we do one without the other? Or why not just have an 8:30 start time everywhere?

  • As I said earlier, the schedule and the start times are a pieces of a complex puzzle, and all must fit together. In order to change the schedule, we must change the start time, or the bus schedules don’t work out.

  • Ideally, every school would start as close to 8:30 as possible. But to do that would cost millions of dollars every year in additional bus costs. That much money would have to come from somewhere: program cuts, class size increases, reduced cost of living adjustments. And it would mean a lot of traffic on Newton's roads, school buses, vans, and cars, all at the same time! Commute by bike at your own peril!

Isn’t an earlier start time for middle school students tough on them and their educators?

  • Yes. One can argue that elementary school students do better earlier in the day, and that once we have all adjusted to the change in start time, this will have some benefits for elementary education. It’s hard to see much benefit from moving the middle schools start time back ten minutes.

  • Middle schools saw changes to their schedule this year that they would like to preserve too. To make this possible, the NTA is advocating that the School Committee vote to reclassify middle schools as elementary schools rather than secondary schools with the Department of Elementary Education. Doing so would permit an overall reduction in the required number of structured learning hours per year by 10%. This would give middle schools the flexibility to consider tweaks to their schedules that would reduce the overall stress on middle school students, such as:

    • Perhaps not make the start time earlier

    • Lengthen passing time (now 2 minutes!)

    • Build in movement breaks

You can expect that, sometime after April break, the NTA will be bringing a small change to our collective bargaining agreement to your for ratification that will have major consequences. We will be urging you to vote yes, for the reasons stated above. Finally, David noted that he and his leadership team will be making themselves available to discuss these proposed changes after April break. We will too, at times yet to be determined. I want to take all of this discussion about schedules and buses and fitting all of the pieces together as an opportunity to thank and praise the grand expert at solving this puzzle, Regina Moody. This spring Regina has had the near impossible task of revising the fall bus schedules even as she is also creating new bus schedules for this spring. Everyone notices when the buses don’t show up on time. When they do show up on time, no one notices. But Regina’s hard work and incredible accomplishments should not be invisible. We all applaud you Regina!


Remote Accommodations

With the expansion of in person learning time, we anticipated that the district would take steps to reassess remote accommodations, so we consulted with MTA legal to get a clear picture of our members' rights and responsibilities, as well as the district's prerogatives and obligations, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In early March, the district sent members with a remote accommodation letters extending their remote accommodation to the end of the year. However, the district does have a limited right to change or revoke these accommodations. It cannot, however, do this unilaterally. The district has an obligation to engage with members who have an accommodation based on a medical disability in an "interactive dialogue.” HR has been sending out emails, followed by phone calls, to initiate that dialogue. Members have an obligation to participate in the dialogue, and if they refuse or ignore the request, the district could unilaterally withdraw their remote accommodation. Two things have changed that give the district the right to request this dialogue and could impact a member’s right to a remote accommodation under ADA:

  • Vaccines are now available to educators, providing an alternative to a remote accommodation as a means of protecting one’s health.

  • School will return to full, in person learning, increasing the district’s needs for in-person educators.

Some members have asked us if the district has the right to ask if they have received the vaccine. They do, but whether one has actually been vaccinated is not really the determining factor for a continuing remote accommodation. These are, as I stated above, that vaccines are now available, and that the district has a need for remote educators to teach in person. There are, however, two qualifying circumstances that would determine that a member has a right to continue on a remote accommodation: (1) the member cannot safely be vaccinated, or (2) there are other medical circumstances that prevent the member from returning to in person work.

If a member’s medical provider has advised them not to get the vaccine, they should share this with HR. If a member’s medical provider advises them that, for medical reasons that are not resolved through vaccination, they should continue working remotely, they should share this with HR. Either of these circumstances would give a member a right to a continued remote accommodation. Please note that the district can require members to provide additional documentation of what they have shared in this conversation in order to continue their remote accommodation, though to date they have not been doing so. Indeed, to our knowledge, even though HR has the right to require members who do not have these two qualifying circumstances to return to full time instruction, the intention of the interactive dialogues has not been to force members back, but rather to inquire if members do intend to return, or to persuade them to do so when this seems reasonable.


MTA Open Enrollment for Disability Insurance

NTA strongly encourages members to participate in the MTA group UNUM long-term disability plan. We do not advise that you purchase short term disability insurance, as our contract provides the protections you will need if you are disabled for the period short term disability insurance would cover unless you are doing so for the purposes of extending a planned maternity leave. UNUM representatives can inform you how the short term disability policy makes that financially more possible.

Click on the image above to learn more.

"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike



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