Lawrence school district won’t be able to accommodate many teachers who requested fully remote assignments; 2 teachers have left positions

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

Lawrence Public Schools district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

Almost a third of Lawrence teachers said in a survey that they hoped to teach 100% remotely this school year rather than return to the classroom during the coronavirus pandemic. But there likely won’t be that many opportunities to do so, based on student enrollment data.

What that means for some of those teachers when the Lawrence school district expects to begin a hybrid learning model later this year is not yet clear. But at least one teacher has chosen to resign and another has chosen to retire because of it, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle told the Journal-World on Friday.

The contradictions between teacher and student preferences seem to highlight how the district must face new problems because of the pandemic, as there appears to be an open question of whether more of the teachers who don’t receive remote teaching assignments will leave their positions.

When recently asked about that possibility at a Lawrence school board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said she was not sure yet how it would play out.

“I don’t know if those staff members will choose not to teach, but the reality is I don’t know how we accommodate them and meet the needs that students and families have indicated,” Stubblefield said. “That is a difficult situation that I think districts across the state and the country are currently facing when the two don’t match up.”

However, Boyle recently told the Journal-World that some teachers may be willing to change their preference if needed, and the local teachers union’s leader said she didn’t know of any other teachers planning to quit.

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photo by: Meeting screenshot/Lawrence school board

Survey data presented to the Lawrence school board on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, shows about 30% of teachers requested a fully remote teaching assignment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, Lawrence schools are set to begin with at least six weeks of fully remote learning. The district is expected to move to a hybrid model afterward, which would have students split into two groups and return to classrooms for half of the week and learn remotely the other half.

According to surveys that the district’s reopening task force has conducted, 215 teachers said they would prefer to teach fully remotely. That’s about 30% of the teachers who were surveyed, as the other nearly 500 said they were planning to teach through a hybrid learning model that includes on-site teaching.

While the school district plans to provide a remote teaching option, a smaller proportion of students appear to be available for fully remote learning. According to a survey of school district families, only about 17% of students would prefer to use fully remote learning the entire fall semester, and an even smaller percentage, about 8.5%, would do so for the entire school year.

Conversely, more than half said they preferred the hybrid learning model.

Zachary Conrad, the district’s director for research, evaluation and accountability, said the survey was used to help the school district pair students and teachers in their preferred model. But Conrad noted that not all of the Lawrence families have participated in the survey, as about 20% have yet to respond to the question.

Part of the reason they may not have responded yet is because they want to know what the local COVID-19 data will look like when the possibility of returning to classrooms gets closer. School board President Kelly Jones said she had heard from several families who expressed those concerns.

Stubblefield said the school district would continue to reach out to families to refine the survey results, noting that some families who have already answered may also switch their preference as they get closer to the possibility of hybrid learning. But so far, Stubblefield said she thought the district would not be able to allow all of the teachers who want to teach fully remotely to do so.

“Because it has to match the students, there are very few preferences we could accommodate,” she said.

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While sorting through the issue, the school district is making sure teachers who have requests based on the Americans with Disabilities Act are considered first. Boyle said the district would make “reasonable” accommodations for those teachers, but she also noted the district’s priority was students.

“We understand teacher preferences for working from home are based on a variety of personal reasons, and that those reasons are valid,” Boyle said. “Ultimately, our schools serve students. Staffing assignments must follow student needs,” she added.

While noting that two teachers had left, Boyle said many of the other teachers who said they preferred to teach remotely have since changed their stance, even those who could have been accommodated.

“We have found in working through this with teachers that some who initially requested a remote position, upon being notified that the district would be granting their accommodation, have since changed their mind and want to teach in a future Hybrid model from the school building,” Boyle said in an email.

But for the teachers who don’t change their minds, it’s unclear what will happen. Boyle did not directly respond to the Journal-World’s questions about whether those teachers would be given a leave of absence or whether the district could consider other protocols for them.

But the district still has time to find solutions. With its plan to start the school year with at least six weeks of fully remote learning, the district won’t move to a hybrid learning option until at least Oct. 19.

Additionally, the Lawrence Education Association, the local teachers union, does not appear to believe it is an issue just yet. Lindsay Buck, president of the union, recently told the Journal-World that the union was aware of the possibility that not all teachers who requested fully remote teaching opportunities would be accommodated. She also said the union was not aware of anyone planning to quit.

“We’re aware of some educators who might reconsider their options, but currently, we know of none who have firm plans to leave the teaching profession as a result of Monday’s board meeting,” Buck said on Wednesday.

It’s unclear if Buck knew about the two teachers who left their positions. She did not respond to the Journal-World’s request for comment on Friday.


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