XENIA — The unions representing a majority of Xenia school employees shared concerns with Xenia’s plan to return to schools in person in a couple weeks.
The president of the Xenia Education Support Professionals (XESP), which represents Xenia’s classified (support) staff, asked the district to bump back its start date and go fully remote for at least nine weeks, while the president of the Xenia Education Association, which represents the teaching and certificated staff, simply asked for a seat at the table as the district moves forward.
During the Xenia school board’s regular meeting Monday, Nola Brooks — president of the 113-member Xenia Education Support Professionals — said her peers are concerned with the district’s current plan and suggested the district resume classes after Labor Day and district officials use the current time to train teachers and support staff for online teaching that will keep everyone organized and to plan for a safe strategy to transition to in-person learning when cases of COVID-19 are “significantly decreased, there is a reliable vaccine, and social distance/mask wearing can be realistically enforced.”
Bill Dawson, a teacher at Xenia High School and president of the Xenia Education Association (XEA), said the organization had to ask three times before it was invited to a meeting “at which the plan was given to us.”
“Since, we have had to have at least three meetings for the addressing of questions and concerns, and we were still not asked to give our input,” Dawson said. “Furthermore, it was not until after the plan was delivered to the public that the teachers were even surveyed as to their opinions.”
Brooks cited a survey, which was sent to 97 members and seven non-members, and showed 86 percent don’t think students will wear their mask 100 percent of the time, 83 percent have some level of anxiety about returning to school at this time, 77 percent are uncomfortable returning to school given recent updates from the governor, WHO, CDC and county health officials, as well as current events, and 65 percent are uncomfortable with starting school following the proposed district plan.
“The continued rise of COVID-19 in the surrounding communities, counties, states, countries, and the world should make us take time to make the best decisions for our students, teachers, staff, families, and our community,” Brooks said. “Montgomery and Clark counties have been on the Red Alert level. While the majority of the support staff lives in Xenia or Greene County, most of the teachers live elsewhere. We cannot just look at the statistics for Greene County while people are traveling between counties. This illness is airborne and highly contagious, especially indoors. Many of our teachers and staff are older and/or have health concerns which puts them at high risk to get COVID-19. Many of our students are under the care of grandparents or great-grandparents who would be at high risk because the students could carry the virus home. Some of the teachers and staff care for their parents who again are at high risk. We should not add to the risk opening in person classes when it is not safe.”
Dawson said the XEA sent nearly 250 surveys and of the 175 responses turned in, 50 percent were uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with the district plan, 33 percent were unsure, and 17 percent were comfortable or very comfortable. The survey did reveal that 38 percent preferred to return in person, while 34 percent preferred remote from buildings. The rest favored remote from home and/or some type of hybrid.
When asked specifically which aspects of work function and work environment are of highest concern, both groups had similar responses including possibility of contacting COVID-19, lack of communication from administration, difficulty of social distancing, monitoring/enforcement of safety measures, and sanitation responsibilities.
“We want, and have wanted since March, to be a part of the process for moving forward,” Dawson said. “We want to be proactive in our approach, so we do not have to take additional time or backtrack when it comes to working within the parameters of the negotiated agreement. We still hold on to hope that our opinions will be valued and that our expertise in the field will be sought in a working partnership that is so desperately needed in a time like this. We should not have to ask repeatedly for information or details about things with which we should have been an active participant in helping create in the first place.”
Brooks added that the XESP needs to be part of the planning process as well.
”When you listen to the news, you hear concern for the students, sometimes for the teachers but very seldom for the support staff,” she said. “We don’t want to be overlooked in the Recover, Restart, Renew Plan. We love our families and don’t want to expose them any more than they already are. Involve both teachers and support staff at every step of the logistical planning process. We are the ones who work with the students, and we often think of issues that administrators at central office do not. We need to be an integral part of the planning process.”
Superintendent Dr. Gabe Lofton said Xenia — like every other district across Ohio — has been preparing for the fall since buildings closed in March knowing there would be many challenges to meet and difficult decisions to make. He said many stakeholders were continually consulted.
“Over the past six months, we have spoken to thousands of community members, parents, and staff members who called, emailed, reached out on social media, and responded to surveys as they grappled with making difficult choices,” Lofton said. “We understand that this is not an easy time for anyone, and will continue to engage all stakeholders and work together as we look forward to a successful school year.”
He added that the district’s preparations “have always centered on creating a successful plan to reopen our buildings as safely as possible.”
Board President Jennifer Marietta said teachers and staff are valued “tremendously and want everyone to be safe.”
“We welcome their continued participation as we go forward,” she said.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507,