Teachers warned they could be fired for not showing up as concern grows over in-person learning

VIDEO: Return to classroom teacher dispute

MONROE, Wash. — As the Monroe School District prepared to begin hybrid in-person learning for first grade students Tuesday, the teacher’s union said educators were warned Monday by the superintendent they could be fired for not showing up to their classrooms this week.

Despite the warning, the Monroe Education Association said first grade teachers were not expected to return to in-person learning, as of Monday night, without an agreement with the district in place to expand in-person learning beyond the initial and current kindergarten and special programs classes, citing COVID-19 safety concerns as cases increase in western Washington.

“Teachers got together and overwhelmingly agreed to keep our in-person people who are already in buildings, our kindergarten and special education staff in, and work through the issues that we’re having with safety around Covid, in hopes of in the future getting more grade levels in,” said Hehn, who told KIRO 7 first grade students returning Tuesday could be with substitutes or administers and without their classroom teachers.

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KIRO 7 obtained a copy of the superintendent’s letter that cites their collective bargaining agreement in directing teachers to return to in-person learning as required. “Failure to comply with this directive may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination,” the superintendent’s letter states.

“That letter was insulting,” said Andrea Hehn, a third grade Monroe School District teacher and MEA Communications Lead. “It felt very disrespectful and people were upset, rightfully so.”

MEA said “multiple” complaints were filed Monday with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries “about ongoing safety and health violations, including no clear plan for notifying staff and students who have been exposed to COVID cases at school, lack of PPE, procedures for isolating students or staff with COVID symptoms, and no clear plan for cleaning and sanitizing areas where the infected person may have been.”

A spokesperson for Monroe School District told KIRO 7 a safety plan was reviewed with staff Monday and that the district’s decision to bring back first grade students in groups for hybrid in-person learning is supported by Snohomish County health officials.

“It’s all revolving around safety, lack of PPE and access to,” said Hehn. “We have very inconsistent protocol within our buildings and across our district; we have too many holes for safety.”

Last week, district administrators said 39 students and three staff members at Frank Wagner Elementary were in quarantine following possible contact with someone who was positive with COVID-19.