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Brookline Educators Vote To Strike, Citing Health And Safety Concerns

Members of the Brookline Educators Union plan to strike Tuesday. The sticking point, according to union leaders, is over the district's social distancing policy.

“We were shocked last week during bargaining when the committee said it would no longer agree to requiring six feet of social distancing in classrooms and other areas of our schools," union president Jessica Wender-Shubow said in a written statement.

School committee chair Suzanne Federspiel told WBUR that there are currently no plans to reduce the six feet social distance rule and that any decision to do that in the future would likely have to pass a school committee vote.

"We would have some health and safety committees and we hope that [union members] are a part of that," said Federspiel. And [the school committee] would make decisions based on the superintendent's recommendations to change that if that seems appropriate."

The dispute began last week during negotiations between the school committee and the educators union for a memorandum of understanding outlining COVID-19 working conditions.

"We don't think that these things should be based on anybody's varied interpretation of the science," said Wender-Shubow, who argued that any reduction in social distancing policy should be determined by a public health agency's guidance like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control or the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Guidance from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education allows for as little as three feet between desks in classrooms.

The interim superintendent does not anticipate changing the six foot requirement "unless something significant happens to change our understanding of best practices," according to a written statement by the school committee.

"At any point before the end of the school year, the optimal mix of protective measures may be very different and less reliant on distancing," the statement said. "Therefore, taking any action that would limit our ability to adapt is irresponsible and would fly in the face of science and fact-based decision-making."

Brookline Public Schools has been phasing their students back into the school building since the beginning of the school year. The first day of the strike is on a pre-scheduled professional development day, meaning the schools were already set to be closed to students.

The school committee voted unanimously to file a petition for a strike investigation with the state Department of Labor Relations during an emergency meeting Monday morning.

State law prohibits public employees from striking. Last month, the Massachusetts Labor Relations Board ruled that the teachers' union in Andover engaged in an illegal work stoppage after they refused to enter school buildings during professional development days prior to the start of school.

Federspiel told WBUR that the district does plan to continue negotiations adding that she feels confident the two sides can get to an agreement "fairly soon now," despite the strike.

Teachers are planning to return to work Wednesday.

This article was originally published on November 02, 2020.

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Carrie Jung Twitter Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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