Gahanna teachers make district's board, administrators aware of concerns

MARLA K. KUHLMAN
mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com
Bobby Swartzentruber is the bargaining chairman for the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Association.

Contract negotiations resumed a day after some Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools teachers sent the school board and district administrators a message Sept. 21 that they want a say in how the district’s hybrid-learning model is implemented when it begins Oct. 13.  

Bobby Swartzentruber, bargaining chairman for the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Association, said the teachers want a safe, equitable and successful return to in-person teaching and instruction. 

He and many other teachers surrounded the campus of Gahanna Middle School South, 349 Shady Spring Drive, and the new Lincoln Elementary School, where they knew board members were touring the school under construction Sept. 21.  

They held signs that read “safety,” “equity” and “success.” 

“One of our concerns has always been safety,” Swartzentruber said. “We want to make sure there is enough PPE (personal protection equipment) available for all our teachers and all the classrooms, that there is an adequate process involved with keeping the rooms sanitized between classes.”  

Swartzentruber, a high school social studies teacher, said another concern is that teachers haven’t been part of a collaborative process in determining the return to in-school, hybrid learning. 

“That’s really one of the sticking points. There hasn’t been that collaboration,” he said. “Teachers know their students best. We feel that is a major concern.”  

Under the proposed plan, Swartzentruber said, all-distance learners wouldn’t be able to engage with the instructor or students but would watch the engagement from home.  

“We feel that isn’t fair to our distance-learner students,” he said. 

Swartzentruber said the teachers’ negotiating team met with the district’s team Sept. 22, with another meeting being discussed.   

He said the issue isn’t about salary or benefits but what they feel is best for students. 

Judy Hengstebeck, the district’s communications coordinator, said a one-year teachers contract was approved by the school board June 26, 2019, and took effect July 1, 2019. That package included a 2% salary increase and an increase in health-care contributions made by both the teachers and the school district. 

“It is important to know that as negotiations with the union continue, the current contract with our teachers remains in place, which means the same step raises and benefits also remain,” Superintendent Steve Barrett said. “Our teachers are dedicated professionals, and we take their concerns seriously. We are working hard to finalize an updated agreement.  

“Our hybrid model replicates the in-classroom experience for our students as much as possible while maintaining strong health and safety protocols,” he said. “Our planning began with our task force earlier this summer, with more than 70 teachers participating.” 

Barrett said conversations with the district’s teachers and the union are ongoing as the district attempts to help them understand the benefits of the hybrid approach for students and families, which includes assuring students will learn from Gahanna-Jefferson teachers, with lessons designed by Gahanna teachers, without the use of a third-party platform.  

He said the proposed approach also provides more teacher contact time for students, and enables teachers to meet with students in small or large groups as they deem appropriate, without the expectation that hybrid and distance-learning students be online all day.  

Barrett said the plan also provides teachers with additional planning, intervention and collaboration time and maintains access to the district’s full course offerings. 

Beryl Brown Piccolantonio, school board president, said the administration has been working to come up with a plan that best serves students’ needs. She said it has been a challenging year. 

On the district’s Facebook page, facebook.com/gahannajeffersonschools, a post by Janie Cruz stated she has never known any of the Gahanna teachers to not have students’ best interest at heart 100% of the time. 

“They are not saying ‘no’ to a hybrid plan, they are saying ‘no’ to this hybrid plan,” she wrote. “I can’t say I know one way or the other, but when hundreds of our teachers have to show up to fight for the best interest of our children, something is not right. ... Listen to them and make it work, or tell us why what they are asking is not feasible.” 

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekMarla