Union President Danielle Seltzer Has Resigned
Editor’s note: On Oct. 31, after this article was published, the Amherst Pelham Education Association released a new statement on social media about its reasons for refusing additional contractual negotiations, which is here.
No negotiations took place this week between the Amherst Regional School Committee (RSC) and the Amherst Pelham Education Association (APEA) about the numbeer of area COVID-19 cases that should require schools to close.
Meanwhile, APEA President Danielle Seltzer, who was in the post for just a few months, confirmed on Friday October 30 that she has resigned. Seltzer, who wouldn’t comment on her reason for stepping down, said the union bylaws stipulate that the vice president, who is now Karin Baker, will serve as interim president. As of publication time, Baker and other APEA executive board members had not returned calls or emails from the Amherst Indy.
The union informed the school committee by email on Monday that it did not wish to resume discussions about the existing Memorandum of Agreement, according to Regional School Committee (RSC) Chairwoman Allison McDonald. The APEA was not a participant in RSC executive sessions this week to discuss collective bargaining strategy. “The APEA was not part of our meetings, and there was no negotiation,” McDonald stated in an email. The RSC has not yet responded publicly to the APEA’s refusal, but expects to early next week, McDonald said.
The RSC first asked to renegotiate the agreement with the union on October 23. McDonald’s letter making the request, and the APEA’s initial response, are here.
Although the U.S. had its worst recorded week for new COVID-19 infections last week, the Town of Amherst slid into the state Department of Public Health’s (DPH) green or lower risk category, with an average daily case level of 2.8 per 100,000 people. A surge in cases primarily among off-campus UMass-Amherst students had pushed Amherst into the red or high-risk zone earlier this month.
There have been 171 cases in the UMass-Amherst community since August 5, most of those among off-campus students. The community continues to battle the virus, and UMass COVID-19 case descriptions show that on October 28, five off-campus students, three on-campus students, and a staff member tested positive. UMass announced October 23 that it is inviting about 60 percent of undergraduates to campus for the spring semester which starts February 1.
Statewide COVID-19 levels are still surging, with 121 communities now deemed high risk. (The DPH’s full report is here.) Northampton is categorized as green, while Belchertown, South Hadley, Easthampton, Southampton and Ludlow are yellow or moderate risk. Granby, Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield, Palmer, Agawam and Westfield are all designated red or high-risk.
Amherst had 18 “active” COVID-19 cases as of October 30, according to the town’s COVID-19 website, with a total of 287 cases since the pandemic began.
The District’s public schools have been remote since opening on September 16, with about 300 students in priority groups returning to buildings from October 15 to 23. During that time, regional COVID-19 cases pushed above the level agreed to by the APEA and the district, prompting buildings to close for two weeks beginning October 26.
The agreed formula, which the RSC hopes to renegotiate, combines data from Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties, but weighs Hampshire more heavily and sets a limit of 28 cases per 100,000 people over seven days. The COVID-19 case metrics on October 29 showed 45.2 positive cases per 100,000 people over seven days.
It is unclear whether the district’s school buildings will be able reopen November 9 for English language learners, children in preschool through grade 1, the homeless, and students in special education programs.
“We will monitor the metrics and report on progress next week,” wrote Schools Superintendent Michael Morris in his weekly update on Oct. 30. The dates for additional groups of students to return to buildings will also be determined by the case numbers.
As of publication time on Oct. 30, the APEA had not released a public statement about its refusal to restart negotiations. However, public Facebook posts referred to a call on Monday (October 26) in which 100 members participated, and a majority voted to oppose new negotiations, with some dissenters.
In a statement on Ocober. 25, the APEA expressed shock over the RSC’s renegotiation request, stating that it had agreed to ongoing conversation, and that a Joint Labor Management Safety Committee was created to address concerns and potential revisions to the existing agreement. The APEA asked for “full transparency and completely open bargaining,” and said it would like to host a “town hall” meeting with district officials to address community concerns.
In the last few weeks, State Education Commission Jeffrey Riley told news outlets including WBUR that public schools have not been a major source of transmission. He claimed that public health officials are planning to update metrics measuring community transmission risk, so that spikes at colleges don’t push towns into the red zone and affect decisions about public school closures.
The State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) guidance on learning models generally suggests that districts go all-remote when average daily cases are greater than 8 per 100,000 people. (A graphic displaying the DESE guidance is here.)
A letter to the school committee, signed by more than 80 parents last week, called for decisions about closing schools to be made by the Amherst Health Director as a “third party.” The group said the health director should consult with school staff, parents, pediatricians, and social workers, at meetings that are “public and transparent.”
A school committee meeting is set for November 4 at 6:30 p.m. The agenda is here.