Elementary school recess this school year is 30 minutes long — a step Anne Arundel County Public Schools leadership says will help students’ mental health as the pandemic continues by allowing for extra socialization and play.
Cape St. Claire Elementary School teacher Allison Heintz used to spend 20 minutes a week supervising recess, but the decision to make recess 30 minutes has added an additional 10 minutes of nonprofessional work each day. She is working recess 150 minutes a week instead of 100 minutes a week.
She said it is one example of additional work teachers have taken on as they return to school buildings after a year and a half of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County have sent a grievance to the Board of Education alleging contract violations, including an increase to the amount of nonprofessional work teachers are doing, such as monitoring recess.
The union’s contract states that except for in emergencies, individually assigned, nonprofessional duties cannot exceed 20 minutes per day during the student day.
TAAAC has said teachers are also working more than the 37.5 hours they are contracted to work each week because of teacher vacancies, bigger class sizes, new requirements and the use of the new Brightspace online learning management system. Teachers are losing their ability to eat lunch without working through it, TAAAC President Russell Leone said in the grievance.
Board President Melissa Ellis and Superintendent George Arlotto issued a joint statement Oct. 29 saying that like other school systems, AACPS has experienced difficulties as it tries to operate the school system during the pandemic. AACPS has held weekly meetings with TAAAC and has met with the group’s executive director to “advise TAAAC regarding the status of working conditions of Unit I employees.”
“As [President Russell Leone] is well aware, not every aspect of the workday is negotiable and there are simply things that have to get done and adjustments that have to be made to meet changing conditions and circumstances. As Superintendent, Dr. Arlotto is authorized, indeed obligated, to make these operational decisions,” Arlotto and Ellis said in the statement.
Teachers used the online learning management system Google Classroom to connect with students remotely last year. Physical education teacher Rich Wiles of Severna Park Elementary said now teachers are being asked to use Brightspace instead, software which he said is harder to use and takes longer.
“It is three steps to do the same thing as Google,” he said.
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Arlotto and Ellis addressed the use of Brightspace in their statement Oct. 29.
“While TAAAC does not seemingly appreciate the value of Brightspace, this new learning management system provides an awesome opportunity to enhance teacher communication with students and families by utilizing dynamic dashboards to provide easy access to lessons, assignments, and assessed work/grades; track student progress; and support school-family connections. It is also an invaluable tool to help students and families connect to what is occurring within the classroom each day, especially when students may have to quarantine or miss school for other reasons.”
Heintz has had three different teachers crying in her classroom, she said, frustrated by the workload and a lack of respect from leaders.
“I love my administration, I love my kids. It’s hard to want to work for someone who doesn’t know what’s happening in my classroom or doesn’t believe me when I tell them what’s happening in my classroom,” Heintz said.
The system’s response to TAAAC’s allegations was sent to parents through a text message alert system, which Heintz and other teachers felt was an inappropriate use of a channel that should be reserved for emergencies.
“That did not feel like a proper use of county tools,” Wiles said.