Coalition of teachers speak against recent MOU

Board approves secondary memorandum at October Board Meeting despite protests from staff

In response to the memorandum of understanding proposed by the Oak Park Unified School District Board of Education, a group of teachers signed and/or wrote a series of statements against this agreement. The MOU stipulates the manner of teaching in a hybrid learning format. Among these statements included letters, more than 18 public comments at the Board meeting and the creation of multiple petitions.

According to math teacher Chris Henderson, the chief complaint against the hybrid learning model described in the MOU was its infeasibility in terms of teachers’ scheduling.

“The agreement was written and alluded to teachers being able to simultaneously conduct distance learning, plus live teaching in a classroom setting all at the same time,” Henderson said. “It’s going to be nearly impossible.”

While the hybrid learning model may work for elementary school teachers, the teachers who signed these petitions are largely middle school and high school teachers. In a survey conducted by the district to secondary school teachers, the majority responded that the agreement made teaching methods not feasible or doable, according to Henderson.

“The agreement was made focusing on the elementary school teachers and not necessarily the secondary school teachers,” Henderson said. “You can accommodate little kids in that manner but you cannot accommodate secondary kids in the same way.”

In response to this pushback, the Board requested Oak Park Unified School District administration and the union to confer and support the teachers in addressing their concerns with the proposed hybrid learning model.

“After listening to the teachers’ concerns and some discussion at our October Board meeting, the Board did approve the secondary schools’ MOU based on the recommendation of our staff and the union president for the opening of schools in the Hybrid Learning/Blended Learning model(s),” OPUSD Governing Board Member Denise Helfstein wrote to the Talon.

According to Henderson, the district responded by recognizing teachers’ concerns and stating that they will provide support and do their best to accommodate. However, they also responded with information that went out to the OPUSD community about how hybrid instruction will take place.

“In my opinion, [this information] wasn’t accurate either, because we’ve been told that we should conduct hybrid teaching, exactly how we do with distance learning right now,” Henderson said. “The difference is I will, instead of sitting at home and conducting it, I will be sitting in the classroom, but [the fact that] the methodology will be the exact same is a possible concern.”

Helfstein explained the difficult situation that had to be dealt with.

“I appreciated that teachers communicated their concerns about the secondary MOU, and I greatly value their perspective. It was a difficult situation as the District is bound to enter into an MOU through negotiations with the OPTA representatives,” Helfstein wrote.

As future school reopenings and procedures continue to be uncertain in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many teachers hope to return to the classroom as soon as possible, but also in a practical manner.

“The biggest thing that students should know is that teachers want to teach. They want to come back and teach students in the classroom. They want to do it in a safe environment. They also want to go back and teach high-quality,” Henderson said. “When we’re told that all I’m going to do now is go sit in my classroom and teach distance learning, again, I don’t think that’s good enough. There’s got to be a way to make it doable for all concerned teachers.”