Just days before the first day of school, teachers at Schreiber High School walked out of a staff training day on Friday, an action that the Port Washington district’s teachers’ union said it did not sanction.
Joy Grasso-Krebs, a science teacher at Schreiber and an officer in the Port Washington Teachers Association (PWTA), said in a videotaped statement on the day of the walkout that staff members were “frustrated, anxious and scared for their health and safety.”
“We worry about the health and safety of our students who are going to be walking through that school,” Grasso-Krebs said. “We are anxious about implementing livestream and the security of the livestream, and there are so many issues that have been imposed upon us, we just don’t feel prepared.”
In a statement posted to Facebook on Monday, the teachers union said that it had not sanctioned the walkout, but said that the union “absolutely” had concerns about returning to school.
“The PWTA has shared their current concerns about re-entering schools with the district and the school board and are continuing to have conversations with the district,” the organization said. “We have requested the engineering report (ventilation) and requested ventilation walkthroughs. Hand washing and hand sanitizing equipment remain a concern. We have witnessed the custodial staff work tirelessly to get schools ready with safety measures. Progress continues to be made in all of the buildings. Many classrooms received their HEPA filtration devices and desk shields were set up in many of the elementary schools.”
The union did express worries about livestreaming, which is being implemented in all of the district’s schools.
“Livestreaming remains a major concern for teachers,” the organization said. “Cameras have been set up in many classrooms and we have attended a brief training. The teachers need additional support and training in this area as the procedure for connecting is still unclear. The PWTA is continuing to discuss the concerns about live-streaming with the district.”
Additionally, the union said, it was “continuing to discuss improvements to the district’s plan,” and the union believed that testing staff and students “should, at a minimum, be voluntary,” but it was prepared to be focused on the first day of school.
“Teachers’ priority on the first day is to teach our students the new safety protocols and focus on our students in the classroom,” the union said. “We ask for patience from those students and families at home as we navigate the new technologies.”
The walkout came little more than a week after a protest by parents of students at Guggenheim Elementary School, Manorhaven Elementary School, John J. Daly Elementary School, John Philip Sousa Elementary School and South Salem Elementary School.
After learning that their children would not have the option of a five-day in-person schedule for the school year, the parents held a demonstration outside the district offices and sent the administration a petition with over 1,000 signatures claiming that medical evidence supported a return to full-time classes.
Shortly afterward, the district announced that it had restructured the elementary plan so that students would be phased in over the month of September, with full-time classes projected to begin in October.
During the protest, district Superintendent Michael Hynes had said that the choice to not include an option for full-time in-person instruction for elementary schools came after the union expressed concerns about the faculty’s return.
In another statement posted on Facebook, the union said that “the belief of some community members that teachers are to blame for the uncertainty surrounding the district’s re-opening has been distressing,” that there had been threats against union leadership on social media, and that the president, Port Enrichment Program instructor Regina McLean, woke up to find her car vandalized at her home.
“We appreciate and understand the concerns that teachers in our district, and across Long Island, have regarding the process of reopening schools,” Hynes said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. “Our administration, in partnership with the board of education and the Port Washington Teachers Association, have addressed many of these issues at the primary and now the secondary level and will continue to address them as necessary. This school year is unique, and its challenges are something that districts statewide and across the country will all face. We anticipate bumps in the road as we navigate this school year but are confident that we will be able to resolve any challenges that arise. The focus of our district has always been, and will always be, the health and safety of our students, staff and community and the delivery of an exceptional education to the children of Port Washington.”
“We know this year is going to be challenging for every one – for our students, our families and the staff,” the PWTA said. “Concerns like these are not unique to Port Washington. Many other districts have similar issues and concerns. This year will require flexibility, problem solving and patience on everyone’s part. We deeply believe that the only way to make this year the best it can be is through partnership with our administration and our community.”
“We are here to work for our students, we are here to work for our district,” Grasso-Krebs said. “But we need to be heard and we need to be supported.”
Efforts to reach the teachers union for further comment were unavailing.
The district began classes on Tuesday, with parents of all students given the choice of remote or hybrid learning plans. As noted, the district says elementary students can return for full-time in-person classes by October.