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Employees at one southern Arizona school address safety concerns with in-person learning

Posted at 6:46 AM, Sep 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-04 09:46:58-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - School has been back in session for most students across the state, but in southern Arizona there's one school that is back in session in-person where some staff say they're concerned over safety protocols.

Students at Leman Academy of Excellence's East Tucson location started in-person learning back on August 17, they'd been learning remotely since August 6.

Some employees who spoke with KGUN9 said there were certain safety protocols put in place to keep both students and staff safe, but they said some of these either have not been enforced closely enough or didn't happen upon returning to school.

“We didn’t feel the school was ready to be a safe place for either us or the scholars," said one employee.

Leman Academy of Excellence staff we spoke to did so under conditions of anonymity.

Those employees told KGUN9 when they were informed they would be transitioning back into in-person learning, they were led to believe class sizes would be much smaller, face masks would be worn by everyone at all times, hand sanitizing stations would be placed throughout the school grounds, and social distancing would be enforced.

However, weeks later, staff said they still have many concerns.

“The biggest concern we saw right away was the size of the classes and then also the amount of time scholars were not practicing proper social distancing and proper hygiene," one employee said.

This staff member told KGUN9 smaller class sizes are not a reality, instead, most are filled like normal, with little to no physical distancing in place.

We reached out to officials with the Leman Academy of Excellence East Tucson location, who listed off safety protocols put in place to keep students and staff safe.

Below is the email KGUN9 received listing off those protocols.

In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID the following changes were made to our school routines:
• Scholars will be grouped by grade level throughout the school day
• Additional custodial staff have been hired to intensify cleaning of high touch areas throughout the school day
• Recess has continued (with grade level only) with disinfection of equipment between use
• Enrichment classes, such as Art and Music, will come to the classroom instead of having scholars moving in and out of the shared classrooms
• Middle School Scholars will remain in the same classroom for their studies; the teachers will rotate classrooms instead of the scholars
• Lunch will continue in the cafeteria with one grade level at a time; tables will all face the same direction and be disinfected between use
• Face coverings/masks will be required for all scholars and staff
• Social distancing is encouraged throughout the school day
• Assemblies and large gatherings are suspended, until further notice
Below are some of the modifications Leman is making to our facilities to allow for a safer learning environment:
· Hand Washing sinks were ordered and will be installed in the cafeteria(s) over the next 2 weeks
· Hand Sanitizer stations have been installed all throughout the campus
· Educational signage has been posted throughout the campus on COVID-19 symptoms, the spread of germs and hand-washing
· Needlepoint bipolar ionization systems will be installed in all of the schools. Ionization systems are designed to kill pathogens to mitigate the spread of viruses and bacteria. This is done by the ions stealing the hydrogen from the pathogens, leaving them to die and leaving the school with clean and healthy indoor air. This ionization system will serve as a safety and ventilation measure aimed at mitigating the spread of coronavirus in our schools. At most of our campuses, installation has either been started or has been completed. All campuses will be complete by mid- September 2020.
Different information related to COVID-19 has been communicated by our HR Department as well as the Health Office to our faculty and staff; information has also been communicated from our Health Office to our families in our weekly school newsletter. We are prepared with protocols in the event that someone should test positive for COVID-19.

One staff member we spoke to said despite hand sanitizing stations being placed throughout the schools grounds, they found some of them didn't work properly or weren't filled with hand sanitizer.

When this employee checked the sanitizer machines this week, they said the one that previously weren't working, finally were.

“I sometimes feel like I’m on my own," an employee said.

Another staff member we spoke to brought up safety protocols surrounding recess. They said recess equipment was not being disinfected between uses.

“This is not about work, we are happy to put in the work, but we're not safe right now and neither are their children," said an employee.

In an email, the Leman Academy of Excellence Head of Schools, Dennis O'Reilly, addressed these claims. Below is his full response.

Class Sizes: We determined class sizes after we heard back from our parent/guardian community as to their selection of whether a family wanted At-school learning OR At-Home learning. Hard to determine what class sizes would look like until we heard back from families of their choice, and then once we determined what the numbers looked like, we got to work doing our best to balance our classes between at school and at home.

Hand Sanitizer Stations: All staff have been given their own hand sanitizer of which we have plenty; we also ordered hand sanitizer stations for all of the Leman campuses, which were strategically placed throughout the campuses, and we ordered many hand sanitizers to place around the campuses. We also have hand sanitizer to refill these stations. I have walked around each of our Leman campuses and used the hand sanitizer stations and only once was one empty, of which I made a report to have it refilled. With that said, we are doing our best to stay on top of refilling these hand sanitizer stations when one should get emptied. I don't have a report of any of our hand sanitizers not working.

Recess Equipment: The recess equipment is disinfected throughout the day after each use; the playgrounds are disinfected after each use by the scholars. I am at one of our campuses today and have witnessed this happening. We also have our custodial staff go into each of the classrooms once they are vacated (for either recess or lunch) to clean and disinfect the room. That will happen 2x per day for each classroom beyond what each of our teachers are already doing throughout the day to also keep their classroom clean and sanitized, as well as the custodial staff that comes in each evening to also do a cleaning of each classroom, cafeteria and all high traffic areas.

Social Distancing for Recess: The scholars have 15 minutes for recess and rotate by grade level; the scholars have also been spoken to about keeping their distance. Let's also keep in mind they are running and playing and will come across one another; I hope you recognize that as human nature. Our scholars are doing a really good job with keeping their masks on, listening to instruction from teachers and staff, and are happy to be back in school.

I am not sure who has come forward to say that Leman is not following through with their planned health and safety measures to provide a safe, supportive learning environment for our scholars, because I have seen nothing that supports those claims, and I have been to each of our Leman campuses multiple times. Our custodial and support staff are continually working to ensure all things are what they need to be for our scholars as it relates to their health, safety and well being. This is why I chose to respond; it's a disservice to them that anyone is saying otherwise. Our group of people whom I watched today and have seen at other campuses over the past few weeks have not stopped working in order to keep classrooms, equipment, cafeterias, etc... clean and disinfected. I believe we have stepped up to the challenge rather well during this rather challenging time.

While the multiple employees we spoke to shared many of the same concerns over safety at the school, they also shared their desire for transparency with parents.

“We want our parents to know exactly what it’s like inside of the school because they can’t go into the school. We want them to know their kids do not have the sanitation stations that they were promised... they have more children in the class than they were promised," said an employee.