Letter: Teachers’ Union Leaders Denied ‘Place at Table’
More than 55 percent of Pottsgrove teachers would prefer to open schools in an all-virtual environment, teachers’ union President John Shantz said Tuesday
LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – In a rebuke to Pottsgrove School District statements that it has worked with its teachers’ union on plans for students’ return to education this fall, the president of the Pottsgrove Education Association claimed Tuesday (July 14, 2020) that union leadership was “denied seats at the table” with teams plotting the district’s course for resuming classes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Association president and 27-year Pottsgrove teacher John Shantz, in a letter publicly distributed by the Board of School Directors during its virtual meeting, charged the district promised but failed to include union leader representation on its pandemic teams. Instead, he continued, the district “hand-pick”(ed) union-member teachers to create a school reopening template “that we were not involved in.”
“The teachers union always has a place at the table,” district Superintendent Dr. William Shirk replied during the meeting, but school board President Robert Lindgren acknowledged that while 10 teachers were selected to help with pandemic planning union leaders were not among them. “That could be remedied very soon,” Lindgren added, “and maybe will be.”
Also during Tuesday’s Pottsgrove meeting:
Lindgren, who at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting on Zoom said he would not open microphones to allow spoken comments from anyone other than board members, denied Shantz’s written request to “speak live.” Instead, he notified Shantz his letter would be released to those attending the meeting, posted as part of the meeting agenda, and incorporated in its entirety in the board’s meeting minutes.
“We consider everyone part of our team,” Lindgren said. “We will sort this thing out and get back on track.”
However, district Solicitor Marc Davis cautioned against giving the union greater prominence than individuals or other groups, and expressed concern that “negotiating” could be conducted in public as a result.
Although the district’s overall health and safety plan for bringing students back for the 2020-2021 academic year is not due to be released for public review until possibly Friday (July 17) or next Wednesday (July 22) – both dates were mentioned – Shantz said he had already received a preview copy from the administration.
“I didn’t see anywhere on there that union leadership has been asked to join a team to help in answering (public) questions and concerns. I assume that the same team will do that work,” Shantz wrote. “Not only should union leadership be invited and have the right to choose some team members, it’s the law,” he suggested, and offered to provide a labor relations board case ruling to that effect.
In later comments typed into the board’s Zoom chat feature, Shantz reported that a newly conducted association survey indicated more than 55 percent of Pottsgrove teachers would prefer an all-virtual environment for students’ return. “That’s news to us,” Shirk responded; an earlier district survey of teachers, he said, showed only 25 percent wanted to avoid a return to buildings. Shantz promised to provide his results.
Editor’s note: The association survey number in the paragraph above and caption at top was earlier inaccurately reported as 67 percent. It was subsequently corrected after a Wednesday (July 15) mid-morning conversation with John Shantz.