ELENA SU/SAGAMORE STAFF
The Brookline Educators Union (BEU) will strike on Tuesday, Nov. 3 instead of participating in the district-wide professional development day. The BEU announced their decision to strike in a press release on Monday, Nov. 2. The official release did not state whether the strike would extend longer than Tuesday.
The release stated that the Union is striking because the Brookline School Committee (BSC) has refused to include a six-foot physical distancing requirement in the Memorandum of Agreement they are currently negotiating with the BEU.
BSC Chair Suzanne Federspiel said that the district is currently committed to maintaining six feet of physical distance in classrooms during hybrid learning; however, this policy may change depending on scientific advancements.
“The six-foot social distancing is in effect. We have not changed that,” Federspiel said. “We are committed to the health of all our students, staff and families. We are committed to six feet until we hear that that is not necessary. That could mean a vaccine, or if they learn something that we don’t know now.”
However, in their official release, the BEU said they are seeking an agreement that would require six-foot physical distancing that the BSC could not change unless they negotiated with the BEU.
According to Union President Jessica Wender-Shubow, the BEU is prioritizing teachers’ health and safety over a rapid transition to hybrid learning.
In a statement of statewide protocols for schools on Sept. 14, the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) said that they recommend maintaining six feet of distance when possible, but three feet is acceptable when six feet is not a feasible option, as long as everyone in the building is wearing a mask at all times.
Interim superintendent Jim Marini did not provide any additional comments.
Wender-Shubow said that the BSC’s refusal to negotiate with the BEU around health and safety precautions also contributed to the decision to strike.
“We have tried every other way to gain respect for the collective bargaining obligations of the school district. They are obligated to negotiate with us around health and safety,” Wender-Shubow said. “We are left with no other option but to demonstrate our seriousness about this, to stop business as usual and to say that you cannot show that level of disregard to your relationship with the Union of your educators.”
Wender-Shubow said that the BEU has surveyed approximately 900 teachers, over 90 percent of whom are in support of the strike.
“What we’re saying, and this is really the bottom line of the strike itself, is ‘We will not wait to get sick to make these buildings safe,’” Wender-Shubow said.
In response to the BEU’s intention to strike, the BSC released a statement Monday afternoon saying that they have filed a petition for a strike investigation with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations. Their statement also said that they are required by law to file such a petition, as striking is illegal for public employees in Massachusetts.
English teacher Rob Primmer said that the BEU has opted to strike as a last resort.
“There could be a financial consequence; there could be a consequence in terms of evaluation; in some cases, people could lose their jobs. This isn’t something that anyone is taking lightly, but I think it shows that we really have reached a boiling point of frustration,” Primmer said. “In order to really make the point and call attention to it, this seems like the only way that this particular voice will be heard.”
This is a developing story and will be updated with additional information.
Contributing reporting by Nina Rogers.