The New Castle School Board has approved a memorandum of understanding with its teachers and aides labor unions, to allow more flexibility in the district in their work as a result of COVID-19.
The document allows the district and its teachers to adjust their work to meet the needs of the classroom teaching and virtual learning during COVID-19 restrictions.
New Castle Area School District superintendent Debbie DeBlasio explained that the agreement keeps everyone working and enables teachers aides to work outside of their job descriptions to perform other duties as they relate to virtual classrooms. Should a teacher contract coronavirus or have another compromising health concern, the agreement also allows them to teach from home virtually or have temporary alternative work arrangements, she said.
The coronavirus outbreak has forced the district to change its educational delivery model to teaching students virtually for at least the first nine weeks of school. Classes could resume in October, depending upon the conditions and numbers of cases being reported at that time in Lawrence County.
Under the new school model, students have been issued Chrome Books or other electronic means to access their classrooms on their computers and they are not physically reporting to school.
The teachers are providing remote, live instruction on camera to students, directly from their classrooms or assigned district school buildings, unless they receive specific authorization to provide that instruction from home, under the agreement.
The New Castle Federation of Teachers has about 220 teachers and about 60 aides, or close to 300 members. The teachers contract expired Aug. 31, but the district's negotiations toward a new contract were stalled because of COVID-19, DeBlasio explained. The contract of the personal care aides expired June 30, 2019. Both the teachers and the personal care aides have been working under the terms of the now-expired contracts since then, until a new agreement is reached.
"Everything is status quo," District solicitor Charles Sapienza said.
Teacher federation president Bill Bradley, a high school science teacher, said the memorandum, adopted by both the union and the board, is an addition to the collective bargaining unit because of COVID-19, "which isn't something anyone foresaw."
The memorandum was negotiated between the district and the union officers and the unions' attorney, Noah R. Jordan of the Pittsburgh law firm Rothman Gordon.
Sapienza said negotiations toward new bargaining agreements started in January but were halted by COVID-19 restrictions.
Bradley said the two sides had exchanged proposals on March 13.
"Then the state shut down everything on the 17," he said, "and that's as far as negotiations had progressed."
"COVID kind of really threw a monkey wrench in all of this," Sapienza said.
He said the district's bargaining team includes him, DeBlasio, business manager Joe Ambrosini and school board members Robert Lyles, Anna Pascarella and Mark Panella. The teachers union lead negotiators are its president, Bradley, and art teacher Season Nogay, union vice president, both of whom represent the teachers and the personal care aides.