Hudson teachers union, administrators weigh in on reopening amid COVID-19

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By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Hudson – The 2020-2021 school year started, at least for Hudson teachers, with a flurry of last-minute changes, statements and clarifications last month.

Settling in to the first of 11 professional development days before the start of classes on Sept. 16, teachers, indeed, had many questions unanswered and plenty of fears about the hybrid education they’re set to provide amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To every Hudson educator who is starting school today…we’re with you,” The Hudson Education Association wrote on Facebook, August 31.

The HEA, which represents teachers in union negotiations, has been critical of hybrid reopening since the Hudson Public Schools first floated the idea earlier this summer.

Just hours before that post, they had, in fact, directly called out the district in a statement.

“The hybrid model is unravelling before it even begins,” the statement read. “Is this really what doing right by our students looks like?”

The HEA zeroed in on recent changes to the Hudson High School schedule, unfilled positions at schools, the delay of a planned dual language program, and the reported loss of teachers to retirement or resignation due to COVID-19 fears.

“Excellent educators, who have developed roots in the community after years of teaching in Hudson, are leaving because it is the only way to keep their high-risk family members safe,” they wrote.

Reached for comment August 31, Superintendent Marco Rodrigues contextualized some of the HEA’s comments while refuting others.

“The High School schedule posed the most challenges in securing a hybrid learning model that would accommodate most students’ requirements for graduation and elective courses,” he said in response to the HEA’s first complaint.

Rodrigues said he reached out to HEA leadership on August 28 to “discuss the issue with them” and noted that Hudson High School Principal Jason Medeiros also sat down with those union heads for a similar conversation.

From there, Rodrigues said, Medeiros relayed an updated schedule to the rest of his staff.

“Although this is a change from what we had communicated with the staff prior to Friday, [there are] some salient benefits,” Rodrigues said.

Namely, he noted that the new schedule offers a routine for students while also easily morphing into a full remote schedule should the district need to pivot mid-year, among other things.

Addressing the rest of the HEA statement, Rodrigues said just one teacher has resigned due to coronavirus concerns. Still, that combined with teacher requests to work remotely has left some vacancies that remained unfilled as of August 31.

“Interviews are ongoing at this time and [we] expect to be fully staffed for students’ start date,” he said.

Elsewhere in its statement, the HEA wrote that “one of our schools has no nurse.”

Further comments from Rodrigues, however, may show a more complicated situation.

Rodrigues said that school in question is the district’s Hubert School, which Hudson runs in partnership with CHAPS, a non-profit childcare company. That facility operates under different state guidelines than the rest of Hudson’s schools and, as a result, has never had a nurse on site.

Then, there’s the dual language English/Portuguese program that was supposed to roll out this fall.

Hotly anticipated, the dual language program will aim to teach biliteracy over the entire duration of a student’s education.

To make the program work, though, Hudson relies on a teacher exchange program with Portuguese speaking countries. Since COVID-19 has prompted global travel restrictions, Rodrigues said Hudson “would not have ample time to hire a new person” for the fall.

He said the district plans to now launch next year.

Altogether, Hudson’s reopening has been messy at times. Much remains uncertain.

After a summer of this uncertainty, and as their union negotiates with administrators, some teachers have started the year weary and with trepidations.

“Educators [are] being made to divide their limited time, energy and expertise across multiple grade levels with curriculum they’ve never taught before,” the HEA wrote near the end of its August 31 statement.

“It’s going to be a difficult year,” at least one teacher wrote in response.