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After Teachers Stage Sickout, School Leaders Announce More COVID Measures

By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

The Birmingham Board of Education (BOE) on Tuesday took several steps to address concerns from some city teachers who had been staying home from work because of COVID-19 cases among students and faculty.

The district will purchase additional air purifiers for classrooms, provide additional pay for teachers who cover classes when other educators are absent. Employees who participate will receive a $1,000 professional development stipend.

More than 200 teachers stayed home from work from January 26 to January 28 following a week where Birmingham City Schools (BCS) reported over 500 cases of COVID-19 among students and faculty, according to WBHM 90.3 FM.

School officials said Tuesday they plan to enhance building sanitation and cleaning, and increase custodian training for all schools. The district will extend employee COVID leave and will offer professional development for employees on health and safety during the pandemic.

Prior to the meeting, Sullivan also recommended several enhancements to the school district’s existing COVID safety measures:

–Strengthen existing mask requirements by making failure to comply a violation of the BCS Code of Conduct and by posting signs in schools and buses to reinforce the policy.

–Streamline access to personal protective equipment by setting up a standard process for principals to request and distribute PPE.

–Spray schools weekly and provide additional training to support the work of custodial staff.

–Establish an advisory committee of parents, students, and employees to regularly assess COVID response.

–Structure the process for reporting COVID cases to the school district to reflect data verified data from multiple sources.

–Formalize a threshold of cases to determine when a school or location should go virtual.

The district will also continue several practices that have helped mitigate the spread of COVID. Masks still will be required in all facilities. BCS will continue volunteer COVID-19 testing through its partnership with UAB.

“Our policies, along with the vigilance of our students and staff, have made a significant difference and allowed us to keep our schools open,” Sullivan said. “We are happy to take additional steps to keep COVID from interfering with the learning experiences of our scholars.”

The air purifiers should be delivered to schools within the next two weeks, according to Dr. Matthew Alexander, chief operating officer of BCS.

The extra pay for teachers will come in two forms. The first is a professional development online course that will be offered to teachers in the school system. Upon completion of the approximately hour-long course, they will be eligible to receive $1,000 thousand dollars as early as April.

In addition, the board also approved concurrent pay for teachers who fill in when other teachers are not able to be school. The rate will be $150 per day for teachers who take over one class from another teacher, and if an absent teacher’s class gets split among multiple teachers, those teachers will split the $150.

“Community Voices”

Prior to the vote at Tuesday’s board meeting, education advocacy groups spoke during the “community voice” portion of the meeting and said they still had some concerns.

Terri Michal, who is the former board representative for District 2 and a member of the Birmingham American Federation of Teachers (BAFT), said “throwing money” at the teachers’ concerns doesn’t fix the problem.

“Our employees, the teachers, do not necessarily want to have 40 and 50 students that they’re responsible for. That’s not to even mention the fact that it is not good practice. Students cannot learn well in those conditions, and that’s what we’re here for, is to teach our students,” Michal said.

Sherman Collins, who represents District 1, said taking on more students may not be “ideal” but he appreciates the work of the teachers.

“I want to applaud these teachers for…doing what needs to be done to get the job done…it may not be the best educational way to do things, but when you’re faced with situations where you need people to step up, and I applaud them for stepping up and taking on because…a lot of people go to work and say, ‘That ain’t my job,’” Collins said.

Leticia Watkins, who represents District 6 on the board, said she stands with the teachers.

“So many of us, over the past couple of weeks, have gone into the schools, and we’ve stood with our instructional leaders, stood with our teachers, so we understand the work that they’ve been doing…and we thank them for those extended efforts that they’re putting in.”