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Monroe first-graders back home after all

MONROE — The district’s reopening plan to use an in-person model of learning for first graders was put on hold after backlash from the public and disapproval from the Monroe Education Association (MEA) teachers’ union.
After one day of returning students to classes, the district released a statement on Nov. 18 announcing a halt to the re-opening plan. The district says it is are committed to working with their labor groups to ensure safety and will continue conversations with the MEA to find a solution that fits students best.
“We have heard the concerns of our staff and families and are pausing in response to these concerns,” a school district statement said. “We want to assure you that your (district’s) board of directors is committed to providing your students with the best education possible in a safe and healthy learning environment.”
First-grade students in “Cohort A” were sent back to in-person, hybrid learning on Nov. 17, despite massive disagreements from the MEA. On Nov. 14, the union voted against the return to the classroom and said they would follow the district’s current memorandum for remote learning. 
MEA union communications lead and Fryelands Elementary teacher Andrea Hehn said the vote had a large majority of the membership who attended, who supported the pause in bringing anymore kids back into schools. 
The MEA met with special education and kindergarten teachers prior to the vote.
Hehn said after meeting with kindergarten and special education staff, it was clear the return of any more students was not safe. 
According to Hehn, during the meeting kindergarten and special education teachers told MEA: “we’re having some success in rolling out the safety protocols but we have a lot of work to do. Please don’t bring anyone else in. It’s not time yet,” Hehn said.
Prior to a school board vote Nov. 9 to send kids back to school, the MEA held a “drive-in rally,” honking and chanting outside the district headquarters while the Monroe school board held a virtual meeting to finalize the plan. MEA president Robyn Hayashi wrote a letter to the school board stating the rally was in opposition of returning to school. Members of the public were there as well in support of the teachers.
Despite the MEA’s efforts, the school board pushed forward and the district threatened staff with potential termination for those not in school for classes on Nov. 17. 
Superintendent Justin Blakso sent a letter on Nov. 16, directing teachers and staff to uphold their contractual obligations and “failure to comply with this directive may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
According to posts on the Monroe School District Families page on Facebook, the return went poorly.
Some teachers refused to teach in person, informing families they will be continuing class remotely and if students go to school they will be with a substitute teacher or an administration member.
“But those teachers who did return to in-person did so in response to that letter, because they felt (that) if they didn’t, they would lose their job,” Hehn said.
The abrupt and urgent push to get kids in school from the district shocked teachers because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the fact other local districts have put a pause on any conversations regarding the return of students.
“(The district was) very insistent and unwilling to pause,” Hehn said. “Even when we put kindergarten students in, they wanted to just go kind of ‘gung ho’ and get them in as soon as possible when that wasn’t our agreement.” 
Since the return of kindergarten students on Oct. 12, there have been two confirmed positive cases from students, one at Frank Wagner Elementary and another at Fryelands Elementary. Four classes have been asked to quarantine since the return: two classes at Frank Wagner Elementary, one class at Fryelands Elementary and one class at Maltby Elementary because of possible exposure.  
The district has stated the push to get kids in school was so strong because of students lack of social and emotional support right now. 
“Which is somewhat true,” Hehn said. “But in the face of so much concern and dangers, is it worth it?”

Prior coverage:
Monroe first-graders return to classrooms



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