PLAISTOW — For many New Hampshire teachers, conducting a class during the coronavirus crisis means video conferencing with their students. However, educators in the Timberlane Regional School District are still trying to add that technology to their teaching tool box.
The Timberlane Teachers’ Association wanted a memorandum of understanding with the district before using video conferencing to instruct students while schools in the state are closed, according to Ryan Richman, the president of the union.
The school board will discuss the memorandum at a special Zoom meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. Also on the agenda are a discussion of election results and possibly providing some or all students with Chromebook laptops.
The public can listen in to the meeting by calling 888-475-4499 or 877-853-5257. After dialing in, they will be prompted to enter a Meeting ID number. Tuesday’s meeting ID number is 651-867-044.
For the past two weeks, Timberlane teachers have only communicated with their students through email, according to Richman.
Superintendent Earl Metzler, who runs both the Timberlane and Hampstead school districts, said March 25 that Hampstead teachers could instruct students through video conferencing.
Metzler said he couldn’t offer Timberlane teachers the same option because the school board restricted his ability to alter teachers’ work conditions without board approval in January.
However, board Chairman Shawn O’Neil said the superinendent never had that authority.
“He never had the right to negotiate changes of a collective bargaining agreement, period,” O’Neil said. “We cannot delegate this. That would always be the board’s duty and obligation.”
This dispute, the fact that school board lawyers were not included in the drafting of the agreement, and the fact that the board could not meet due to the outbreak, has held up the approval of the memorandum, which teachers say they need to proceed with video conferencing.
O’Neil and Metzler both said that the board tried to meet earlier to find a solution.
O’Neil said if he had known about the need for an agreement earlier, he would have designated three board members to act and make decisions on this issue.
“This could have been done very quickly,” O’Neill said.
According to Grant Bosse, the director of communications at the New Hampshire Department of Education, Timberlane is the only district that the DOE is aware of with a problem of this nature.
“I don’t know of any other district that is having a similar dispute,” he said.
Bosse also said that most school districts have not had to go through as intensive a process as Timberlane to allow teachers to use the online tool.
“Most districts didn’t have to go through a formal memorandum of understanding,” Bosse said. “They just switched to a different mode of instruction. This is the only situation of its kind that we’ve been dealing with this week.”
Richman said that Timberlane teachers, including himself, are “chomping at the bit” to start using video conferencing tools, but the teachers association wants an agreement to ensure that teachers are properly protected before jumping right in.
He said that any change that affects everyone in the union requires a memorandum of understanding and always has.
“If there is going to be a change that affects everybody in the district, it requires us to have those conversations and for our membership to weigh in,” he said. “This is a fundamental change to the delivery of instruction. We wanted to make sure this was done right.”
Last week, Richman said the union worked with their legal team to draft the agreement, which ensures privacy protections for teachers as well as the option to receive training in the technology.
Once the agreement is approved, teachers would be able to use video conferencing as they see fit, according to Richman. He said that teachers who do not feel comfortable using the technology or who feel that they can effectively teach without it, will not be required to use it.
Richman also said that students who do not have access to a computer, camera or internet will not be penalized for their inability to take part in video conferencing.