A group of Osseo School District teachers and staff members weren’t quite ready to go quiet in expressing their thoughts about starting the year under a hybrid model of classroom and distance learning.
Two weeks after voicing their concerns about starting the year with in-person learning due to safety concerns with COVID-19, the group “Anti-Racists for a Better District 279” staged another protest outside the Osseo Education Center. The rally coincided with the start time of the Tuesday, Aug. 25, Osseo School Board meeting, where the board voted 3-2 to remain with the hybrid model. The vote went against Superintendent Cory McIntyre’s recommendation to start the year with a “Distance Learning Plus” model due to higher numbers of coronavirus cases in the Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Center.
Apparently, their message wasn’t ignored.
When Tuesday’s motion failed, McIntyre went back to work in hopes of coming up with a solution the Board would approve. He called for an emergency meeting that was held virtually at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 28. It was there he proposed a tweaked plan that would have students starting the 2020-21 school year on Monday, Sept. 14 using the distance learning model and having the students return under a hybrid model on Monday, Sept. 28.
McIntyre said this would give teachers and staff extra time many said they needed to prepare curriculum and also work on COVID-19 safety measures. The recommendation passed 4-1, with Heather Douglass casting the dissenting vote, saying administration and staff have had ample time to prepare for a safe return to in-classroom learning.
“I think this is an excellent compromise,” said Renee Sagmore, one of the organizers of the group. “I think the school board saw the need to use city data, not just county data (for positive COVID-19 tests). The teachers I have spoken to are relieve to have additional time and to ensure a safe start.”
The group also staged a protest last month, urging the district to take measures against racism that led to the board passing a resolution to that effect. Their focused shifted on Aug. 14 with the message that staff was not yet comfortable returning to the classroom.
About 125 people showed up on Aug. 25.
Another concern of the group was the higher rates of positive cases in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, which include higher numbers of students of color.
After 8 minutes, 46 seconds of silence to begin Tuesday’s meeting in honor of George Floyd’s memory, the group began honking horns in their vehicles to make their presence known. It was a socially distant event as group members remained in their vehicles and wore masks while staying six feet apart when displaying their signs.
Unlike previous School Board meetings during the pandemic that were conducted online, this meeting was in-person with Board members socially distanced at their perches.
“I think it’s best to start with distance learning for student and staff safety,” said Nancy Ziemer, who taught at North View Junior High for 24 years and five at Park Center High School. “I can’t imagine that the buildings are ready to meet the safety requirements. When the decision is made to move to a more restrictive model, all data should be considered, especially from our most vulnerable populations.”
Others are concerned that with more than 5,000 students enrolled in the Distance Learning Academy – which requires them to remain there for the entire school year – that there will not be enough time for teachers to prepare. McIntyre said at the meeting that they are working on hiring new staff but also knows many teachers will receive assignments not related to their specialties.
“The decision last Tuesday to push the start date for students back by four days was essential. However, the idea that teachers will be ready to teach in full distance learning, short-term distance learning, or hybrid with eight working days to prepare and they still do not know what they will be teaching or where they will be teaching, is absurd,” Ziemer said. “It is a farce to think that educational quality will remain the same when the district is attempting to create a new school/new system in a matter of weeks. Everyone is doing and will do their best, but moving hundreds of teachers, changing their teaching assignments, dismantling professional learning teams, and disrupting school communities, causes frustration and chaos, all of which will impact student learning.
“We recognize the immense difficulties under a global pandemic, nevertheless, information from the District has not been as forthcoming or transparent as it should be. Families may not realize that they may not have the teachers they expected - the teachers with the expertise and passion for their specific course or grade level. Finally, for the record, staff want to be in school with students - if it’s safe.”