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Lincoln County Teachers Object To Classroom Requirement

City of Newport

Teachers in Lincoln County are objecting to the school district’s requirement that they teach distance learning from the classroom.

When the school year gets underway later this month, students in the Lincoln County School District will be at home. Their teachers will not. The district is requiring them to deliver their remote instruction from their classrooms.

In a memo to district staff, Superintendent Karen Gray said those otherwise-empty rooms will be "stocked with sanitizer and professionally cleaned."

And Gray said teachers will be socially distant from other staff members while in the classroom.

"You have been able to keep yourselves safe at Safeway, Fred Meyer and Walmart, so at school, the same rules apply," wrote Gray. "And our classrooms are safer and cleaner."

Gray said being in the building would give teachers better access to district resources, including tech support.

Her memo specified that staff members who "feel or perceive" that they are at-risk for COVID-19 will still be required to "come to work in the physical building," but would not be required to physically interact with other staff members.

Gray wrote that district employees "with a genuine medical serious health condition" should consult their doctor and then schedule a meeting with Human Resources.

An aide said Gray was unavailable for an interview Tuesday.

The local teacher’s union president, Peter Lohonyay, said the requirement for teachers to deliver remote instruction from their classrooms could backfire.

“If we start putting teachers back in the building too soon, and all the safety regulations aren’t followed to the letter ‘T,” and we have an outbreak at that school, then we can’t open that school again,” he said. “The moment we have an infection at that school, they have to go into quarantine.”

Lohonyay said teachers want the option to deliver remote instruction from home. "We want to work," he said. "We're not saying every teacher has to stay home. All we're asking for is flexibility."

Lohonyay also said many teachers are struggling to find childcare for their school age children, since those children will also be receiving instruction at home.

In a letter to the community posted on the Lincoln County Education Association website, the union suggests the district's policy could result in a shortage of teachers.

"Finding childcare has always been a struggle in Lincoln County. With the addition of the pandemic, childcare is even more scarce," the union wrote. "If many of our teachers take leave, who is going to educate the children in this community? There are not enough substitutes to step in."

The letter was first reported by the Newport News Times.

Lohonyay said the district and the union will meet this week to negotiate a possible Memorandum of Understanding that would address the union's concerns. Regardless of the outcome, Lohonyay -- who's taught Career Technical Education at Toledo High School for more than a decade -- said it's been a year like no other.

"I have never in my entire lifetime experienced what we have experienced this spring and fall," he said. "Like everyone else, we're in brand new waters and we're doing the best job we can do."

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