HAVERHILL — Teachers and other educators in the district will now have the option of working from home on Wednesdays as part of a new working agreement between the district and the Haverhill Education Association, the union that represents teachers in Haverhill's public schools.
The option comes as a result of concerns about childcare issues that many members of the staff are facing during the pandemic, to follow Gov. Charlie Baker's recommendation that those who can work from home should, and to give custodians the space they need to conduct deep cleaning, which takes place throughout the district on Wednesdays.
The changes in working conditions that were approved by the School Committee at its Oct. 8 meeting and ratified by the union are now in effect, school officials said.
"This is about a fundamental redesign of public education in this time of pandemic," said Anthony Parolisi, president of the Haverhill Education Association. "We had to redesign how public education works as if we were starting an entirely new district from scratch."
Superintendent Margaret Marotta along with Parolisi said a Memorandum of Agreement Related to COVID-19 between the School Committee and the union was ratified by a vote on Tuesday of 336 to 152.
"Negotiations have been ongoing for several months and have required patience, understanding and compromise from all involved," they jointly announced in an email to educators. "We are excited to be moving forward, hopefully to better times."
School Committeeman Rich Rosa, a member of the bargaining team, said the 21-page agreement includes the recent establishment of a Joint Stakeholder Coronavirus Response Team, which is tasked to review weekly public health data in regards to the pandemic and recommended potential changes to hybrid, in-person and remote learning models.
The agreement outlines basic expectations for all classes at each grade level so that students will have multiple, live interactions with educators throughout the day while taking some of the burden off of educators from what was initially expected, Parolisi said.
"This is important as it's incredibly difficult to teach students who are working remotely while at the same time teaching students who are in the classroom, especially at the younger grades," Parolisi said.
He said the agreement now limits the amount of time teachers are required to teach in-person and at-home students simultaneously.
"This allows teachers to introduce lessons to students at home then spend the majority of time focusing on students in the classroom," he said. "We think this is why many parents opted for the hybrid model."
Indoor air quality, another facet of the agreement, requires that prior to the occupation of all buildings, HVAC systems be inspected by an independent certified HVAC professional.
School officials said the purpose of the inspections is to ensure equipment is working as designed and to provide guidance for the use of all air exchange apparatus dampers, filters and fans. A copy of the report will be provided to the union when it is received by the district.
"The positive is that we were able to agree that we need more conversations about air quality, as our members and families are still looking for more information to know they are safe," Parolisi said.
Other health and safety measures in the agreement call for the district to provide personal protection equipment (PPEs), safety measures and training specific to each employee’s role and duty.
Sufficient cleaning materials and supplies for classrooms will be provided by the district, along with plexiglass shields or three-side enclosed cubicles for work that requires closer contact than six feet.
The agreement also calls for hand sanitizer, preferably automatic hand sanitizer stations, to be installed in classrooms and throughout hallways, as well as handwashing stations throughout school buildings; training for staff and students on moving throughout buildings; the regular cleaning of restrooms and the disabling of air hand dryers.
Health experts say the use of paper hand towels in restrooms is the most hygienic way to dry your hands.
"That's why we requested that blow dryers be disabled and to make paper towels available," Parolisi said.
Union members also agreed to daily wellness self-attestation, and to sign in at each school building for contact tracing purposes.
The health of students is another factor, as the agreement calls for having at least one dedicated, full-time school nurse at each school to provide health assessment and supportive care to all students, except at the Crowell School, which will be staffed by the nurse director.
Additionally, parent/teacher conferences are to be conducted remotely using a method that is comfortable and familiar to both the parent and the educator, such as by phone or online.
"We're trying to make sure that all parents have access to their children's teachers," Parolisi said.