The Park City Board of Education sent a letter to teachers on Monday night informing them that salary and benefit negotiations are nearly finished and the board plans to ratify their pay raises at Wednesday’s meeting.
Some teachers, though, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, say they feel like the letter is threatening and if they continue to express their concerns about overcrowded classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, the deal could be off.
The letter can be viewed in full next to this article. Signed by all five school board members, acknowledges the magnitude of the task teachers have had to bring students safely back to class. The board says they stand with educators and want to work together to create conditions for student success, health, and safety.
At the same time, the board is asking teachers who have concerns about their personal safety to use the regulated communication channels through their administrators rather than writing letters to the school board, media and posting on social websites.
Some teachers found one paragraph of the letter disconcerting:
“Please understand that the actions of a few are jeopardizing our [the school board’s] ability to deliver on this much warranted salary increase. When a group of your peers continuously undermine the district through print, radio and social media because they are not getting their way please understand it hurts us all in the eyes of the community. You as a group need to collectively make a decision on which direction to take.”
The letter continues to say that it’s frustrating for the board that some in the teacher ranks seem to be more focused on UEA and NEA “politics” than the education of children. The board adds they’re doing their best for the children while also bearing in mind teachers’ well-being. The letter asks teachers to put aside state and national agendas to do the same.
In an interview with KPCW, Board President Andrew Caplan said Park City Education Association ( the word associations is a correction to the original story which stated Foundation in the original report) leadership submitted written concerns to the board the night before school started.
“I think the best path is not to create an email or media campaign against the district because that reflects on the district as a whole,” he said. “And I think that hurts all the efforts that we're all making in terms of education in this community.”
Caplan says most of Park City’s 330 teachers support the district’s plan to have students back in school five days a week. KPCW has received a few emails and texts from teachers expressing their concerns, but they are unwilling to go on the record for fear of being reprimanded - or losing their jobs.
One teacher, 35-year veteran PCHS social studies instructor Kevin Fober, spoke to KPCW about his resignation over his concerns.
If COVID-19 infection rates warrant it, Caplan says the district is ready to adjust. The superintendent he says speaks with the Summit County Health Department nearly every day. He acknowledges there are a lot of unknowns, and the district is ready to pivot to other learning models if needed.
“There were some task forces that met over the summer that involved all stakeholders and there is a hybrid plan ready to go should we need it,” he said. “Loosely, what we're looking at is a return to ‘orange’ in our community or state that would necessitate moving back to hybrid model. The other possibility in the event of an outbreak in our schools would be to go to remote for a temporary period of time with a certain threshold, again to come back to, in person.”
An organization called Safe Utah Schools has organized teacher's rally to draw attention to their safety concerns for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, a half-hour prior to the school board's meeting outside the district's office on Kearns Boulevard.
“I don’t know a ton about the organization that’s organized it. I know that it’s not a local organization,” he said. “I believe it’s statewide. The distract has some issues with the fact that they were using district logos, etc. to promote it as if it was a district rally, which it’s not. So, I’m not opposed to any discussion around safe school re-openings. I do think there’s probably a time and a place for it. I think outside of a board meeting where we’re ratifying the largest raise in district history is probably not the time or place. That’s up to the UEA or whichever organization has chosen to stage this rally.”
Caplan says the board will continue to work with teachers who have safety concerns.
“The board is being as supportive as we can in terms of opening the purse strings or mitigation methods, whether that is PPE or otherwise,” he said. “We're going to do everything we possibly can to make sure that our employees are safe and most importantly that our kids are safe as well.”
The school board meets in a special session on Wednesday at 4 p.m., the same time the rally starts. The budget hearing begins at 6. Space is limited due to distancing guidelines and the public is being asked to submit input prior to the meeting. For more information and to submit comments, visit the Park City School District website.