New Teacher's Union Comes To Park City School District
A handful of Park City High School Teachers have joined a new union because they say the district is not listening to their concerns about the added workload and safety issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Paula McKay has been teaching for 21 years at Park City High School. She says safety and workload concerns are not being addressed by the school board. That’s why McKay and nine of her colleagues joined the Park City chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. She says it’s unsustainable to continue teaching under the current model.
“I feel like I'm drowning. I feel like I'm drowning in the ocean. And the ocean liner right next to me has got life preservers and there is this conversation on deck whether or not they should help us. It's like they see the issue, but nothing is happening. Or another colleague who's the most capable person I know, they say I feel like I'm a disaster this year.”
Sharon Ellsworth Nielsen has been an educator for nearly 40-years and is in her 9th year teaching English Language Arts at the high school. She joined the AFT because she’s worried that many students are falling behind, and she says she can’t maintain the workload and keep herself and students safe in the current classroom environment.
“We have spoken up. We have worked through channels and nothing is happening. We’re still in the dark and we're still struggling and so, we just want a voice at the table. We want to be part of the conversation, have our experience and opinions respected as professionals so that we know that we can get through this together and that we’ll learn something from this and things will look better a few months from now than they are now. And, that we will have a better handle on the way we move forward next year.”
A letter from the AFT to the Park City School Board asks for more transparency in reported COVID cases, and specifically asks for school case counts which include children and adults. They want a plan to determine how and when learning would shift from in person to virtual saying the metrics used are not consistent. They are also asking for more time to work with all students, those in class, and at home.
Utah Education Association is a teacher’s union that represents 18,000 teachers in the state. UEA President Heidi Matthews says the way to address the challenges caused by the pandemic is to continue negotiating and to stick together.
“The three areas that were focused on in the press release last week are really just a reiteration of what the UEA has been working towards since the beginning. This isn't really anything new and you may be a little late to the game. In reality, the way that we are going to make the changes that we want is through developing our solidarity and improving our relationships. And I understand that this is a frustrating time. It's exhausting for all of our educators and many of our teachers are facing just untenable situations especially with regards to workload, impacts of constantly shifting modalities. But, you know, we’re in a pandemic and numbers are rising and not everyone is happy with the outcomes that we have been able to achieve.”
The Park City Education Association has 296 members. Co-Vice President Aaron Webb told KPCW in an email that there are some teachers who feel their requests have not been met. He says some teachers demanded work actions that the majority of PCEA members did not support, such as a strike or sick-out. McKay and Neilsen both say it is not true. While sympathetic with their concerns, Webb says the school district is only contractually obligated to negotiate with PCEA and not AFT.
In their October meeting, the Park City Board of Education approved a Friday half day early release to give Treasure Mountain Junior High School and the Park City High School teachers more time for planning and supporting virtual students.
A link to the Park City School District COVID Dashboard can be found here.