Shaker Heights teachers union recommends online learning through January

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SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio (WJW)– The Shaker Heights Teachers‘ Association is recommending the school year begin online and remain virtual through January.

The announcement contradicts the district’s options for in-person, hybrid learning or a virtual academy this upcoming school year.

“It would be the perfect storm of situations that would cause us to shut down again,” said Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association President John Morris. “This is the most difficult decision I know that I’ve faced in 23 years as an educator and we don’t take it lightly.”

Morris and other association leadership members, who are also teachers, gathered to voice their concern with returning to the classroom as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Several teachers referenced the age of several district buildings, some calling them upwards of 100 years old and difficult to practice social distancing inside classrooms.

“The current numbers that they are talking about are 17 to 18 students in a classroom and a teacher and possibly other paraprofessionals,” said elementary teacher Lena Paskewitz.

“Students would be at least 3 feet apart and that does not feel safe,” echoed Matt Zucca, an elementary teacher.

A spokesperson for the school district issued the following response regarding the association’s recommendation:

“We appreciate the recommendation from the Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association. It is a part of the continuing and constructive dialogue we’ve had with our teachers for several months and we thank them for this important and thoughtful feedback. As a district, we’ll be making a decision on this issue by the first week of August if not sooner. Meanwhile, we Will continue to discuss these issues with the SHTA and our other collective bargaining units moving forward.”

Morris said the district’s largest age group of teachers fall between the ages of 35 to 50 years old. He said nearly 20 percent of teachers are 55 and older.

Special education teacher Anastacio Vazquez Jr, said he realizes the challenges remote learning poses for students, but encouraged additional safer, creative, alternatives to in-person learning.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for many special ed students to receive the instruction they need based on their IEP and what their goals are,” Vazquez said.

The SHTA executive board said it appreciates the district’s diligence to make reopening schools safe, however, there are “too many unknowns about the spread of the virus.” 

The board said the district is not mandating and cannot afford testing for students and staff upon return to the classroom.

“There’s nothing that I want more on August 24 to come back to a room of kids and to teach normally, but this pandemic doesn’t allow it,” Morris said.

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