As Evanston Township High School is due to reopen for personal lessons on Wednesday, the union, which represents more than 300 ETH teachers, would like independent confirmation that the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is working properly.
In a memo on union membership that was also shared with the ETH administration, the President of the Teachers’ Council, GionMatthias Schelbert, said that an 18-point preliminary agreement with the school district for a Memorandum of Understanding on the conditions for the reopening of the EHS for the personal learning was taken. These points include that the school provides personal protective equipment, that employees who may report violations of the COVID abatement standards have “whistleblower protection” and that students who do not wear masks have “no tolerance”.
However, the memo also mentions two unresolved issues. One of them is the “underpayment” of how much teachers get when they cover classes that are now longer.
The other problem is the HVAC. The teachers’ council has asked the administration for an independent third party to verify that the HVAC system is working properly. This is critical to reducing the spread of coronavirus in a building.
The union even offered to pay for its own expert to review the system, but the memo says, “Dr. Eric Witherspoon [District 202 Superintendent] declined our request for this inspection without offering an explanation or documentation … “
Schelbert tells Evanston Now the Teachers’ Council and District 202 Administration have a good working relationship. He says the union is not looking for a “gotcha” moment, they just want a third party to review the HVAC operations.
“This is an airborne virus,” says Shelbert. “We want the HVAC system to be checked.” He notes that the administration has announced that the system has been checked and that documents will be provided. However, Schelbert says that some papers were made available earlier today but there does not appear to be an independent assessment.
“When you buy a home, you have your own inspector,” he says. “It’s not that you don’t believe the homeowner,” but you want an independent look.
According to Schelbert, the administration has submitted air quality reports showing that the building is COVD-free. However, he notes that the test is only a snapshot and ongoing HVAC operations is a different issue.
With nearly half of the high school’s 3,600 students and all 600 staff starting the hybrid class on Wednesday, Schelbert notes that for such a large number of people in the building, the ventilation system is critical to airflow and safety to guarantee.
He says the teachers want to believe the district’s claims that the HVAC system has been updated, but they just want independent confirmation whether it’s their own expert or someone else. And if documents provided by ETHS have this independent point of view, then Schelbert says that is fine. But the union has not seen it yet.
According to Schelbert, the maintenance and janitorial staff did an excellent job preparing the school to welcome students and staff. “I’ve never seen it so clean,” he says. And they say you can feel the air flowing.
He also says teachers will report on Wednesday whether or not the HVAC issue is resolved. “We’re not going to do any illegal job campaigns,” he says. “We are here to serve our students.”
Even if the issue isn’t closed by Wednesday, Schelbert says the union will continue negotiations pending an independent HVAC assessment.
Returning to school during a pandemic is “an incredible challenge,” says Schelbert. But “we will make it,” he says. “ETHS teachers always made it. This is no exception. “
Evanston Now has asked the ETHS administration for a comment, but we haven’t received a response yet.