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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin September, 28, 2020

Dear Colleagues: I will keep this week's update short. I know you are all feeling overwhelmed. This early in the year, the pace and amount of work already feels unsustainable. As one member of our crisis team put it to us: We are having a hard time even thinking about health and safety right now, because we are doing all we can just to keep one step ahead of our students. And that's scary for all us, both in terms how unsustainable the work feels, and of how much risk it puts us in.  Yet even as you are struggling, pressure is mounting in the community for more: more time on learning in elementary schools, a quick transition to hybrid in middle schools, and a short timeline for switching to a hybrid plan in the high schools. If the district is truly committed to instruction that is attuned to the trauma students are experiencing, if central administrators and School Committee members really care about the social and emotional well-being of children, then they will do more than overwhelm staff with PD on these topics: they will push back against community pressure for "more," for "faster," for "right now." They will lead.  Negotiations Update We negotiated once last week, and presented a counter-proposal to the district, and expect a response from them on Wednesday. We are near an agreement on almost all issues we are negotiating. Health and Safety Update On Monday, September 21, the School Committee and Central Administration did a complete about face: They initiated an urgent and immediate plan to have an outside engineering firm oversee "measurement and verification" testing of every building and every room in the NPS before the beginning of heating season. They committed to doing whatever mitigation necessary so as to provide adequate introduction of fresh air into every room. And they committed to providing full public disclosure of all the data that results from testing as it is being done. Up until this week, the NPS had claimed to both the NTA and the larger Newton school community that they had already completed this work: On August 21, 2020, in a public document, "Fact Sheet -- Facilities,' NPS states that “In addition to regular summer HVAC maintenance we have added inspection of every device to ensure the proper operation to allow for and ensure maximum ventilation under appropriate conditions. All ventilation systems and equipment have been reviewed and serviced.” They go on to claim that the ventilation systems in buildings "are introducing up to three times the amount of outdoor air than (sic) is required by ASHRAE" (the regulatory agency that sets standards for measuring indoor air quality). They declare that they have reached this conclusion as the result of a process "of evaluating, adjusting, and servicing all our HVAC systems throughout the school buildings" that began “many months ago.”  On Thursday, numerous council members asked: Why now? Why have you waited so long to do this work, and why did you begin it now? Morse and Hurley avoided answering the question. The answer is straightforward: Because the NTA forced them to do it. If they had answered this question, the follow-up question would have been: Why did the NPS need the NTA to force them to do this? Why NOT do this critical work if it is critical for protecting children and staff, and why misrepresent to the public that it has been done? Was the obstacle money? Did they believe the work was too expensive? Not according to City of Newton Chief Financial Officer Maureen Limieux, who said that the City of Newton and the NPS have ample additional funding to do this work through the CARES act and FEMA, funding directed towards precisely this type of COVID-19 preparedness. But maybe this is just not how they wanted to spend that money. So we just don't know why they were so dead set against it. But to be clear: this is work that should be done on a regular basis: ASHRAE minimum air exchange standards are not COVID-19 specific. These standards are set to insure that students and staff are getting adequate supplies of fresh air--oxygen--because if they are not, it is harmful to health even under ordinary circumstances. The district should be doing this kind of evaluation regularly, and going forward, we will make sure that they do.  "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike   Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association


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