Op-Ed: “The Safest Return” by June Gustafson, President, Hingham Education Association

September 12, 2020 Submitted by June Gustafson, President, Hingham Education Association

To Members of the Hingham Community,

As president of the Hingham Education Association (HEA), I keep hearing that the HEA is creating a roadblock to the reopening of our schools. This is simply not true! What we all want is the safest return to teaching and learning.  Teachers have spent the summer worrying, not just about school but updating their wills, insurance policies, and sadly, looking into funeral arrangements. Not a typical summer at all!

First, every single educator wants to return to school the way it was when we left on March 12 but, unfortunately, that is not possible. School, and therefore our jobs, will change drastically. Under Massachusetts General Law 150, changes in working conditions are subject to impact bargaining.  And the changes are vast! We are, along with Dr. Austin and the School Committee following the law to work out an agreement that will be most safe for all, including our students. Bear in mind, the working conditions of the HEA are the learning conditions of the students, your children. In terms of the timeline, the HEA reminded the district administration on July 7 about the right to bargain and made a formal request on July 21. The two sides have met 7 times since then, and continue to negotiate in good faith.

Without going into the weeds, I want to address some of the changes that will happen, beginning with remote learning. After the shock of the closure, we were on Apollo 13 and adapting as we went along. It was crisis teaching, not remote teaching! As we have now had time to reflect, we know we will do better when we return to that model during the upcoming school year.

As someone who has attended nearly every meeting offered from the RRAC to community coffees, I kept hearing the phrase ‘30,000 foot’ view. Educators don’t operate at cruise control at a high altitude, and we cannot be on automatic pilot.  We are on the runway, at ground level. We are responsible for the safety of our students, along with the delivery of instruction. Just like the workings of a jumbo jet coming in for a landing, deplaning, and mechanicals, our jobs are complex and detailed, and student safety is our utmost priority. The best teachers make it look so easy, it is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, 90% of teaching occurs below the surface and outside of the classroom. The amount of planning, then the execution of the plans, and the feedback/assessment loop, are incredibly time consuming.

We appreciate the time that went into the plans and were grateful to have had a role in the process but as the plans were rolled out (prior to the impact bargaining taking place), we knew that we would be responsible for ironing out the details that need to occur at ground level. And there are hundreds of them! And as optimistic as I want to be about teaching full time with everyone back, we must prepare for remote learning, as additional waves of the virus are being predicted. That is why the 10 days of professional development are essential to do better if we need to pivot back.

The impact of safety and space requirements for the classroom is profound. Between the social distancing required, the inability to share materials, and provided group/partner work, we know that our students will need devices to use while they are in person. All of our lessons will need to be adapted and revised to reflect this. Also in the hybrid plan, is the idea that we can teach in person and to a remote class at the same time. Every educator I know relies on non verbal cues from our students, I have joked with my students that I have eyes in the back of my head but even that second set of eyes cannot allow me to manage the students in front of me, as well as students on the screen. Libby Lewicki from the school committee demonstrated this on the night of the plan’s vote. Some people found this amusing but it is a stunning reality that we will be faced with. Good classroom management is not just redirecting students, it is the ability to know, just by a quick glance, who is understanding and who is not. Also a concern is student safety and privacy of our students, your children. Furthermore we will be masked, making it extremely difficult for those at home to understand what we are teaching or speaking about.

Many of us love doing group work in our classes, some of our classes have been called noisy, busy, energetic, and we are fine with that. Conversations, ideas, even disagreements among student groups is a form of learning and of assessment. That will be minimized this year, as group and partner work will be needed to be done electronically, even while in the classrooms.

Classrooms are sacred places. They are where students learn to be independent, can make mistakes without the judging eyes of their families, where kids make lifelong connections to topics, to peers, to adults. They are also, particularly in the early grades, a place where a student forms their first ideas about school. We worry that our young students will find school to be one with such stringent rules about safety,one that they will associate with anxiety and possibly fear.

Which brings me to my final topic: fear. Many of us are afraid, be it for our personal health, the health of our families and loved ones, some of whom have serious medical conditions that Covid exposure could be fatal, some of us are the sole caregivers of elderly parents, as well as our children, the lack of childcare and different district schedules (not all of us live in Hingham) have kept the HEA members sleepless and worried this entire summer. Beyond our personal families, we also fear for our school families, our students, your families, and our colleagues.

We expect there will be mistakes made, even failure (which we consider one of the greatest teachers of all time). Teachers need patience and grace. The 30,000 foot plan is out of cruise control, we are landing the plane, runway crews are standing by. We need to ensure safety, we have a solid tripartite phased-in approach learning plan, and are preparing to bring joy to our most important passengers, our students. Negotiations are a component of mitigating concerns. It’s part of preparing for the smoothest landing and journey in these pandemic skies.

June Gustafson, President, Hingham Education Association

19 thoughts on “Op-Ed: “The Safest Return” by June Gustafson, President, Hingham Education Association”

  1. Hi June – It might help parents to understand your position better, if you can articulate (obviously from the teachers’ perspective) the things that enable the private schools in our area, and many public districts, (like those in AZ) to start full time….that we can’t, or won’t do? While dealing with the same virus (in AZ’s case, materially worse health metrics), those schools have some combination of elements (their “secret sauce”), where staff, teachers, parents, students…that make going back full time is the best thing. We are lacking.

    We all know how absolutely critical education is, and because it’s so critical, during this crisis many schools are providing an experience that is pretty close to the standard one; yet we seem to be moving in cement shoes; offering ~70% remote learning which is close to zero value for so many. What is the difference….what specifically do you need to get catch up to these other schools? At this rate, I’m worried that in a few semesters, nearly all of us will go for private or charter schools, and there won’t be a need for Hingham Public Schools.

    Thanks in advance for your thoughtful response.


  2. Our children’s academic, social and emotional well‐being hinges on the immediate adoption of a data‐driven approach designed to safely get back in the classroom.
    Multiple options of in-person instruction are opening all around Hingham and surrounding towns to fill the void or replace HPS. Private schools, Parochial schools, private pods, daycares, preschools, and there are many more. The disparity in achievement gaps along socioeconomic lines that remote learning will exacerbate is heartbreaking. How can it be acceptable to put families in this position, when the rates of COVID-19 are so low in Hingham? When the unions push an agenda on behalf of the teachers that comes at the expense of our children and the public school system, something is wrong. Now, parents are being forced to widen their circle with people and families they don’t know. Our schools should be open, to limit the number of individuals that our kids are interacting with to slow the spread. We should not accept this with anxiety and fear rather move forward and show resilience!

  3. Planning funerals, updating wills, from a virus with less then 1% death rate. Hard to believe anything past this point in this article. Teachers have really shown their true colors in this pandemic. Unions over students Most overpaid part time profession.

    • Jim – this is going to require some abstract thought on your part, but do you think that the fatality rate you quote applies equally to all people regardless of age or medical condition? If so, do some more research.

      Also, next time you leave a comment, show some courage and leave your full name.

    • I agree. Also, you should have a will anyway and not because of this virus. I think we’ve all heard and experienced people in our lives die with no notice so you should be prepared for death regardless. It’s ridiculous for her to say this and if I was a part of this union I’d be embarrassed of her saying this.

  4. It would be useful to understand what health benchmarks the union is using? Schools have gone back all across the WORLD. Schools have gone back with more in person learning in MA then what’s being discussed here in Hingham. How are our kids and teachers different so that we require less teaching?

  5. As a retired teacher and a concerned grandparent of 2 boys within the Hingham school system I feel I must comment on all of the above. I live in Scotland where my other 2 grandchildren have returned to daycare and elementary school full time and my daughter-in-law is a high school teacher who is also back in class. Rigid safety measures are in place across the whole system and parents and teachers are satisfied with this system. Of course there have had to be adjustments where concerns have arisen, but they are dealt with as they occur. This is a new way of living and working, for everyone, but our priority must be the return to full time education for all our children. I do not understand why private schools in your area are open and public schools aren’t. All schools in Scotland opened at the same time and all children are back in full time education. Scotland is not alone in this. Denmark, Sweden and now the rest of the UK are resuming full time schooling. Surely an affluent area such as Hingham can come up with a resolution to their difficulties when other poorer parts of the world can deal with the challenges involved.

  6. This op-ed is so poorly written and has done nothing but widen the us vs them mentality that is occurring in Hingham. Is June Gustafson representing what the majority of teachers in Hingham want? Or is she only pushing her/the unions agenda? She has made it so clear that the children’s needs are not a priority. Our family is moving to private schools because I have lost all respect and trust in the hingham public school system. I know that most teachers are great and care about the students but the Union does not and the Union is apparently king. As stated in a previous comment, soon there will be so few students in HPS which will ultimately hurt a lot of teachers here. Maybe it is time for teachers to speak out and protect their jobs because many will lose their jobs as people. continue to flee the public schools.

  7. What specifics do the teachers need in order to facilitate full-time in person school? In order to gain any support from parents, those details should be made available (considering MANY private and other public schools across the country are conducting in-person already). Hingham appears to be the minority.

    Further, we have existing therapeutics and a vaccine will be available for those who wish to take it. For a virus that has an extremely low transmission, in Hingham, and mortality rate, particularly in the young. I’d skip the ‘funeral arrangements’ theatrics next time. Parents want and deserve transparency. The longer this continues the more irrelevant public education becomes. Parents with means will begin to source education elsewhere.

  8. June – Hingham has done an excellent job on keeping the transmission rate down – we’re constantly in the gray or green which – according to Dr. Fauci – implies it’s safe for both teachers and students to return to full-time, in- person education. No HPS teacher needs to worry about funeral arrangements but they may need to worry about the amount of students who are leaving HPS and will continue to do so. Our kids deserve better

  9. President Gustafson – Since March, millions of healthcare professionals have been working in actual (not theoretical, or possible) close proximity to patients with Covid. From doctors & nurses to techs, office staff and services, I have not seen any examples where they refuse to do their job. They’ve developed the best safety protocols they can. They summon the courage. And they’ve done their job.

    Millions more are doing the same at grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, retail shops, day camps, and more.

    And the data, the science, tells us the vast majority of them have been working in far riskier environments than what we have in Hingham today.

    While it’s an imperfect (but not wholly) comparison to look at doctors or checkout clerks at Big Y & Talbots, who are showing up every day, and compare them to teachers; we now have examples of local public schools, local private schools; schools of both types across the country, and as another commenter pointed out, around the world, of teachers, willing & able to be in the classroom; every day. Education is CRITICAL. And they are acting like it.

    Because we see it is possible. Because we see it has been done safely, many of us see that the position of HEA clearly demonstrate a union belief that education is not critical; that 50% is just fine.

    As our schools, and our children, get “lapped” by others, you will increasingly lose our confidence and support.

  10. As a nurse who works in Boston, I have seen people step up to the plate everyday and do their job. There have been nurses or other healthcare professionals who did not feel up to the job because of Covid 19, and therefore have retired or found another line of work. If Hingham teachers are not up to doing their job it is time to step aside, retire, or find another line of work that you feel safe doing. There are hundreds of young men, and women who have recently received their masters degree just waiting for the opportunity to teach. They are not afraid to do the WHOLE job that some teachers are not willing to do. It is time to let these teachers in. The ones willing to do everything, not just 50% of the job. It is not fair what is happening to the children here in Hingham.

    • If you think teachers trying to teach remotely is only doing their job at 50% then you need to have a conversation with a few teachers who are using every ounce of patience to teach this way. It is FAR more work then having their students in their classroom.

  11. It is beyond time for our school committee members to take a stand as the committees did in Andover and Sharon. Those teachers are back to school. When negotiations dragged on,these committees filed with the Labor relations board. In so doing, information about negotiations became public as well.
    The School Committee is the advocate for parents and children. They need to act accordingly.

  12. “updating their wills, insurance policies, and sadly, looking into funeral arrangements”..??

    This wreaks of dime store negotiation tactics…simply gross!

    Shame on HEA for allowing this negligent diatribe to be written. Hingham deserves so much better than this.

  13. I have been very sympathetic to our teachers up until reading this op-ed. I’d suggest Ms Gustafson get out of her teacher bubble. You lost me at ” it has not been a “a typical summer at all!” Teachers have had time this summer to plan, what a luxury! Many of us have been adapting to the impact of the pandemic, without a break, since March. What is the purpose of sharing that much of teachers’ work is done outside of the classroom? Of course it is! This should not surprise anyone, least of all teachers. The job entails lesson plans, grading, after school help, etc. It’s what teachers are paid for. And while I understand how stressful childcare is, why is it more stressful for teachers? Like many parents, I’ve fully supported our teachers over the years with gift cards, games and classroom supplies, time as room parent, food donations etc, but it’s clear that the teacher’s union is focused on bargaining for more (would love some transparency here) rather than supporting our students. We all have made sacrifices during this time, it’s disappointing that teachers want to use a pandemic to negotiate more for themselves.

    • To clarify my above comment, my outrage is directed at the union, not Hingham teachers. My children have been fortunate to have some AMAZING teachers who have gone above and beyond for their students; these teachers absolutely deserve our support and patience, now more than ever. Their jobs, along with many others, have changed in ways no one could have imagined. While I fully sympathize and understand the stress and fear teachers may be feeling, I take issue with the union’s lack of transparency and blatant attempt to pull at parents’ heartstrings. Using a pandemic to further the union’s agenda is shameful.

  14. Mrs. Gustafson is an embarrassment to the hard working teachers of Hingham. She’s clearly not the right person to be their voice and should step aside and let someone more levelheaded take the reins before she flies Apollo 13 into a tree.


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