Note: On March 17, President Tinney wanted to clarify this message:

An Apology

Dear Vermont-NEA Members,

When calling upon you to be patient and forgiving in these challenging times, I was not thinking that I’d be the one asking for your forgiveness and patience.

In my haste to get my message out to you before the close of school today, I fumbled a critical paragraph and made an incorrect and misleading statement about the risk factors in your workplace.

Dismissing students from school certainly is intended to reduce the risk of employees contracting COVID-19, but it does not eliminate the risk. I do not have the epidemiological background to determine which workplace is low-risk or high-risk and apologize for implying that your school building is not a high-risk environment. The risk is everywhere.

 As you enter your school building to do the essential work needed this week, you will be assuming an element of risk of being infected.  While the preventive measure of social distancing will be easier to practice in your workplace than in a crowded restaurant, it is not a guarantee that you won’t contract the virus.

Vermont-NEA will continue to work with government officials and administrators to find ways to further reduce the risk of infection amongst our members— with telecommuting and other home-based options.  

In solidarity,

Don Tinney
Vermont-NEA President



Dear Fellow Vermont-NEA Members,

Thank you for your hard work in recent days as you have prepared for the prolonged dismissal of your students. Every community in our beloved state is experiencing fear and anxiety as we face this COVID-19 crisis.  As educators, you have been providing compassion and support for your students and their families while trying to meet your own needs and the needs of your own family.

Given the speed with which this health crisis has been developing, we have all struggled to keep up with the hourly news reports, many of which contain mixed signals from the White House and other governmental agencies.  I strongly encourage you to focus on the reports from the Vermont Department of Health, which is carefully tracking the progress of the virus in our state and advising Vermonters about the precautions we need to take here.

Over the next few days, educators have much essential work to accomplish to assure that the needs of our students, particularly the most vulnerable among them, are met efficiently and effectively.  I am confident that Vermont educators will make every reasonable effort to serve the children and youth of their communities.

I am aware that some of our Vermont-NEA members are stressed and anxious about returning to their school building over the next few days. Some have medical conditions of their own – or within their family—or have other extenuating circumstances.  In a phone conversation with Secretary of Education Dan French today, I received assurance that if you are overly stressed and anxious about returning to your school building, then you can choose to remain at home without fear of reprisal.

While the governor has called for the closing of bars and restaurants, please remember that your workplace – without a multitude of students present—is not a high-risk setting, as long as you practice careful social distancing (something that is next to impossible in typical social settings like a restaurant) and proper hygiene.

This health crisis will have a devastating financial impact across all sectors of the Vermont economy. Secretary French reminded me today that Governor Scott has made it very clear that all school employees will continue to get paid during the dismissal period.  Section 5 of his directive directs that all schools shall remain operational for administrators, teachers and staff to sustain essential services and to plan and implement continuity of education through remote learning. We expect that some staff might have new duties as appropriate to support the larger work of community preparedness and support.

We have no way of knowing what is going to happen tomorrow, let alone what will happen in two weeks. The Agency of Education does not expect distance learning plans to be up and running this week; given the state of emergency, we cannot expect to see student academic growth over the next two weeks.  You and your colleagues, however, should continue to develop your instructional plans in the event of a prolonged closure. We can expect further guidance from the AOE.

In closing, I can assure you that your local affiliate leaders, along with the staff at Vermont-NEA, have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure the extended dismissal of your students has gone as smoothly as possible. Please be sure that you have up-to-date contact information for your local leaders in case you need to contact them during this difficult time. You can also click here for regular updates from Vermont-NEA.

We are in this together as union members, as educators, and as Vermonters.

In solidarity,

Don Tinney

Vermont-NEA President

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