Association Efforts to Promote Safe Work Environments

I’d like to take a moment to update Association members about FEA’s efforts on their behalf to advocate for the health and safety of all faculty, staff and students — as well as the families of all these stakeholders — as DoDEA tries to develop a plan for reopening schools. As of this writing, DoDEA is considering both in-person instruction, as well as a student digital learning option for families who elect not to have their children attend school in-person for the 2020-2021 school year.

Our request is to use the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines as the baseline for re-opening schools, as the safety and well-being of the students, staff and their families are of highest importance. FEA has strongly advocated for following the CDC guidelines on social distancing, wearing masks, etc. Those guidelines from CDC can be found at this site.

Throughout the spring and summer, the Association has participated in weekly phone calls with DoDEA headquarters officials. During these calls, I have raised many questions/concerns from our members. FEA Director for DDESS Jane Loggins has done the same. However, while some of these questions/concerns have been addressed, in many cases there has been a lengthy delay in responding to or even addressing some of the concerns. We will continue to advocate for a deliberate, planned and safe re-opening of the schools. If that cannot be achieved, we will advocate for additional delays before in-person instruction is resumed.

When DoDEA has shared draft guidelines or documents with FEA, we have gathered input and provided comments, concerns and feedback to DoDEA. However, it is often the case that there is little follow-up from DoDEA.

Two particular areas of concern are the availability of adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in each school for students and staff and providing for the thorough and daily cleaning of classrooms and schools if/when face-to-face instruction resumes.

In every one of our phone calls with DoDEA management, the Association has voiced our concerns about PPE being available in every school. DoDEA initially told us they would be making a large PPE purchase through headquarters, then began saying the purchasing of PPE would be a local responsibility. DoDEA now says they have a contract with AAFES to ensure that PPE and cleaning supplies will be available in all schools.

These changing plans have raised concerns whether the PPE supplies will be there, and in sufficient quantities, if/when schools re-open and throughout the school year.

In response to our repeated questions about what PPE and cleaning supplies will be on site at each school, DoDEA has stated that they are working on an inventory of those materials. The Association has asked for, but to date has not received, a copy of this list of PPE equipment and cleaning supplies for the schools. As the availability of these materials is a key component of DoDEA’s reopening plans, we will ask FEA leaders at the school level to alert us via the Association chain of command if this commitment to provide sufficient PPE and cleaning supplies is not met at EVERY location.

During a recent phone call, one DoDEA Headquarters official stated that ensuring proper cleaning of facilities was a “non-issue.” When I pointed out to them that the current language in cleaning contracts did not call for daily cleaning of all surfaces, there was strong pushback. I explained that the most recent frequency of cleaning schedules I had for Overseas schools called for high school students’ desks to be wiped down just twice per month — clearly an insufficient schedule. Finally, a DoDEA resource management official acknowledged that the cleaning contracts would need to be renegotiated to require daily cleanings. FEA has emphasized to management that DoDEA teachers do not have time and should not be expected to clean.

The Association will continue to advocate for and share our understanding of the school environment with headquarters. Like the PPE and cleaning supplies, the frequency of cleanings is another thing we will ask local FEA reps to report through the Chain of Command to make sure those daily cleanings do happen in any face-to-face environments.

The fact DoDEA informed the Association just last week of its initial proposals for a student digital learning option for families who elect not to have their child(ren) attend school in-person in the coming school year raises concern regarding the Agency’s planning. Other areas of planning seem equally uncertain.

For many weeks, FEA has been asking management about the process it intends to follow for Reasonable Accommodations. We finally received the first draft of this policy last week and have had to request a meeting for further information. Most recently, last Friday, FEA was given a draft document from DoDEA regarding extracurriculars, music and sports and was given just one workday to respond with any feedback.

FEA is concerned that management’s planning to safely re-open schools in the fall might not be at the stage it should be with only weeks left before the scheduled start of the school year.

FEA does agree with management’s decision to postpone the opening of schools in the Southeast District of DoDEA Americas. We hope similar delays — or an all-virtual opening — will be enacted in other locations if a safe face-to-face opening is not feasible.