LOWER MERION TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- An online petition with more than 2,600 signatures argues the Lower Merion School District is putting teachers at risk for no reason. The district is requiring teachers to return to the classroom in-person, even though students will be learning virtually from home until at least October 5.
"Even if I was able to teach in a classroom with only myself in it, when I'm not teaching, I'm going to be moving to a shared space with other teachers, where I might be sitting elbow to elbow with someone else while we're working on prepping for our other classes," said Nora Christman, creator of the petition and Lower Merion High School physics teacher.
Christman said many of Lower Merion's teachers are in vulnerable populations and are incredibly concerned about their own health.
"We should be allowed to be a part of the dialogue about how we can best do our jobs in this situation," said Christman.
Other teachers said they are worried about their own children's childcare. Andrea Malkin is a third-grade teacher at Gladwyne Elementary School and said her kids will be learning from home until November, yet she's required to teach in-person to an empty classroom.
"I want to be able to do that from home so I can take care of my own kids because I don't really have easy choices for child care that are within our means," said Malkin.
Governor Tom Wolf's most recent teleworking order said employees should conduct their operations virtually and only return in-person if online is not an option.
In a statement to Action News, Lower Merion School District spokesperson Amy Buckman said, "Their (teachers') presence in school will not only allow them to access teaching resources but will allow them to set up their spaces and work through any potential challenges unique to bringing their classrooms' students back safely as well."
Louise Pierce taught art at Lower Merion High School for the last 30 years. She said if she had it her way, she'd continue teaching but the pandemic and in-person concerns pushed her to retire early.
"Being 62 is my pre-existing condition, you know I'm in the kill zone, I didn't want to risk my life."
Buckman said any staff member concerned about their ability to return to work is urged to contact the Human Resources Department.
Lower Merion School District released this full statement below:
Throughout the summer, the Lower Merion School District Administration and leadership of the Lower Merion Education Association have been discussing and working through plans for a safe and equitable return to school for students and for staff.
Building administrators in each school are working with the Health and Safety Team of the District's Reopening Task Force to finalize building Health and Safety Plans that will reflect best practices to achieve this important goal and mitigate risk to the extent possible.
Our District Administration worked through this process and returned to their offices in a phased manner starting at the beginning of July. Steps such as requiring face masks, installing hand sanitizer stations, erecting dividers between work spaces, reminding everyone to maintain social distance, prohibiting congregating in common spaces, and staggering shifts as necessary were implemented at the District Administration Offices. Similar steps will be taken at each building as appropriate to that building's unique conditions and requirements.
The District understands that individual staff members may have health or family concerns that will affect their ability to return to work in our schools. Anyone with those concerns has been urged throughout the summer to reach out to the District's Human Resources Team, to work toward developing next steps for them individually. Additionally, the District has been meeting a number of childcare providers and community stakeholders to seek much-needed childcare options for District families and staff.
While some staff will be needed for LMSD@Home, the District's own fully virtual option for the school year, the District is continuing to strive toward the goal of in-person instruction, with both students and staff in our classrooms. As a first step in our phased reopening process, teachers are being asked to teach from their schools and classrooms. This will allow for social distancing and will mean buildings will have far fewer people in them than their maximum capacity. Their presence in school will not only allow them to access teaching resources, but will allow them to set up their spaces and work through any potential challenges unique to bringing their classrooms' students back safely as well.
A link to the petition can be found HERE.