Opinion: Fulton’s teachers told leave kids home during remote classes

Fulton teachers have been banned from bringing their kids to empty classrooms during virtual learning. (AJC)

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Fulton teachers have been banned from bringing their kids to empty classrooms during virtual learning. (AJC)

District says it’s not a change in policy, but teachers perplexed over reasoning

UPDATE on Monday, Jan. 10:

A parent shared an email that she received from Fulton Superintendent Mike Looney before the start of school that suggests a 2020 lawsuit regarding teachers bringing their children into school buildings during remote teaching influenced the recent revocation of the practice, much to the disappointment of many teachers.

Last week, I wrote the story below in which the district said the policy always has been that children cannot accompany staff to work, and the lawsuit was not a factor. However, in the email to the parent, Looney wrote: “We are currently defending the district in a lawsuit related to my decision to allow employees to bring their children to school the last time. The truth is we simply can’t allow it.”

I went back to Fulton Schools to clarify what seems like a contradiction between what I was told and what Looney wrote to the parent.

Here is what spokesman Brian Noyes told me in an email today:

The idea of reinstating the exception for teachers to bring their school-aged students to work while they provide instruction from the classroom was not a policy question – it was one of a district-allowed practice during extraordinary circumstances. Dr. Looney did consider the pending litigation about the waiver as one factor in not reinstating the practice.

As you know, and as the public can understand, when almost 14,000 employees are involved, issues can be complex. Let me share some of the additional considerations that were included in the decision at the time in 2020 that led to ending the temporary practice, and now for not reinstating it for the few days last week we were in remote learning.

Multiple factors:

Staff expressed concerns that additional persons in the building added to the potential spread of COVID-19.

Administrators expressed concern the child care at school would provide a benefit to a class of employees (i.e., Teachers with school-aged students would be the only group to receive the benefits. Bus drivers, custodians and others would not be able to access this benefit, as they did not have a similar workspace. Also, staff with no school-aged children would not have access to the benefit.)

Principals expressed concerns about managing the children of teachers while in the school with the potential of some being unsupervised.

Concerns were expressed about older students potentially being in elementary schools around younger students.

Administrators expressed concerns about teachers being distracted with supervising younger children while trying to provide instruction.

The district was returning to in-person learning, where child care would become less of a concern, and the exception ran its course for usefulness on a districtwide basis.

Here is the original blog posting:

Fulton County Schools resumed classes after winter break this week with online-only classes in response to the surge in coronavirus cases in metro Atlanta.

Fulton teachers are required to be in their classrooms as they teach remotely. Some wanted to bring their children with them as they had done in 2020. Otherwise, they’d have to stay home with their children. But this week, the district said children cannot accompany their parents to school.

Some teachers are upset, especially since they were allowed to have their children in their classrooms when Fulton went online in the first weeks of the 2020 school year in response to high COVID-19 rates. Permitting teachers to bring their children was an exception in practice due to an extraordinary circumstance, said Fulton spokesman Brian Noyes.

“It was not policy then and is not the policy now. There may have been points in history where it was allowed, so I don’t want to say it was ‘never’ allowed, but it was not our policy at the time and for most people’s memory,” said Noyes today.

Here is the message that went out to teachers this week:

ajc.com

Credit: Fulton County Schools

Credit: Fulton County Schools

Teachers said the district’s edict against teaching from home or having their kids with them at the schools creates undue hardship for them — and for a district coping with staff members out sick with omicron.

Here is a note a teacher sent, the sentiment of which was echoed by other Fulton teachers:

With COVID, teaching parents are again put in a very difficult position. Many of us don't have any sick leave left, since we have to stay home with children when they show any signs of COVID. Even several times a semester when we are home with them for one day due to false alarms depletes our sick time.

With FMLA, we would be expected to prepare plans and grade any student work, with reduced pay and depletion of our sick leave. We would not be teaching synchronously. Subs cannot replace us by doing the same work. Taking FMLA is further compromising instruction, when we could be teaching remotely from home or from our schools while being in the same room as our school-age children who are learning virtually.

I have become so disappointed with Fulton County School's response to teachers who are parents. They are not budging with regard to letting us stay home and work from home while our school-age children have to learn remotely.

Given the staffing shortages already caused by the coronavirus, I was surprised at Fulton’s policy since it could further deplete the teacher pool.

“The district’s long-standing policy has been not to allow children in workspaces when schools are closed,” said Noyes. “The district made a temporary exception to that policy in August-September 2020, when it allowed certain employees to bring their school-aged children to work with them while the district was still using a virtual instructional model. That temporary exception ended at the end of September 2020, when the district began transitioning back to in-person learning. Since then, the district has kept to its regular policy of not permitting children to accompany their parents to work.”

While the district understood the dilemma facing parents, Noyes said it had to create equitable workplace policies.

There have been media reports that the policy was spurred by a lawsuit filed by a teacher in 2020 over the waiver that she and other teachers were required to sign to bring their kids into their buildings. That is not correct, said Noyes, adding, “There wasn’t any change in policy because of the lawsuit. It has nothing to do with current process.” The lawsuit — still ongoing — focused on the language of the waiver.

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