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Park City teachers union says ‘no easy answer’ to remote learning, decries students bullying teachers who are enforcing mask mandate

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Park City School District
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A Park City teachers union co-president said its members had strong opinions on both sides of the question of whether to move to remote learning during the most recent spike in cases of COVID-19. Members are concerned about contracting the illness, she said, and also wary of the inequitable impacts of shutting school doors.

The union representing many Park City teachers says its members have strong opinions about the district’s decision not to go to remote learning amid a surge of COVID-19 cases. The union and other officials are also denouncing what they call bullying and harassing behavior from some students toward staff members enforcing the mask mandate.

The Park City Education Association, in conjunction with the Park City School District and Board of Education, released a statement this weekend after the board — in a special emergency session on Friday — opted against transitioning to remote learning.

The statement thanks teachers and staff for their hard work, clarifies that there is no remote option for students and condemns what it calls “bullying” behavior from some students toward teachers and staff who are trying to enforce the mask mandate.

Union co-president Mary Morgan told KPCW there are strong opinions among members on both sides of the question of whether to suspend in-person education.

“They're concerned of going remote and not being able to reach the most vulnerable population and respect the fact that we do have parents that would not be able to immediately get childcare, and that puts a huge burden on them,” Morgan said. “And also, the concerns of the in-person learning that more teachers are getting COVID and the students are getting COVID and, of course, the cases are going up. So we're concerned on both sides of that issue.”

Overall, Morgan said morale among union members is mixed. She said administrators aren’t directly asking teachers to enforce the mask mandate, but indicated the issue adds another burden in what has already been a challenging period.

The joint statement addresses what it calls “defiant, harassing/bullying, or rude behavior” from students directed at teachers and staff members enforcing the mask mandate.

“We have had a few instances of students displaying defiant behavior that do not have an exemption on file with the school and are just refusing to wear the mask and in some instances have displayed bullying or harassing behavior towards teachers,” Morgan said. “So, that is handled at the principal and administration level. So, that defiance or bullying behavior is not tolerated.”

Morgan said those issues tend to be among older students and that at Ecker Hill Middle School, where she teaches, most students comply with the mask rule.

Masks are required to be worn in Summit County schools under an order that is set to expire Feb. 21. Students can be exempted from the order for a medical or mental health condition or a disability.

A Park City School District representative said the district had received exemption requests, but would not say how many. For Morgan, enforcement is easier if there’s an exemption on file.

Enforcement aside, the district last week was faced with the prospect of moving once again to remote learning to combat record numbers of COVID-19 cases.

At an emergency meeting Friday, the Park City Board of Education decided not to shut school doors for this four-day week. Board President Erin Grady closed the meeting by saying parents could work with their students’ schools to “go remote for a certain amount of time that (they) see fit.”

Morgan said that the same virtual curriculum management tools remain in place as they have throughout the pandemic, which allow students to access lessons and submit assignments online. But she drew a distinction between that and remote learning. She said there is no plan for teachers to once again teach classes online.

“A true remote learning situation is with teachers being online with kids on a Zoom or on a Google Meet, live, interacting with them constantly,” Morgan said. “It's impossible to do both. You can't do an in-person learning with the kids and be interacting with kids on Zoom or a Google Meet or managing all the remote options that a true remote learning would be.”

Morgan also said that in-person learning offers a better educational product, and that students may learn less if they aren’t in a classroom.

“It’s really hard,” she said. “Like I said, it's been really hard for the union to balance — with the teachers and the students and the families and the district office and the community and, you know, it's hard. There's no easy answer, and you're not going to make everyone feel completely 100% satisfied or safe the entire time. Unfortunately, that's the world we've been living in for 18 months.”

The board was set to meet again Tuesday night. State officials allowed districts to move to remote learning for the week of Jan. 17, as well as the week of Jan. 24.