BEVERLY — Beverly teachers rallied outside City Hall on Tuesday to express concerns about the reopening of schools and the lack of a contract.
With schools set to open on Wednesday, about 60 teachers lined the sidewalks on both sides of the street in front of City Hall holding signs saying "Trust Your Teachers," "Beverly Solidarity" and "We are without a contract."
"Our main message is, we do plan to go back to work, but we have some concerns and we wanted to show solidarity," said Julia Brotherton, president of the Beverly Teachers Association.
Teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31, when their previous three-year deal expired. Negotiations started last year but were delayed as the School Committee and teachers' union had to bargain over the impacts of reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.
Stephanie Lowe, chair of the Beverly Teachers Association contract action team, said the union ratified a memorandum of understanding on Monday night that addresses some of their concerns about safety issues, including ventilation in school buildings. But negotiations on a contract are ongoing.
"We're out here to be seen and heard," Lowe said. "This is really just the blunt instrument to make issues heard."
The School Committee is scheduled to vote on the memorandum of understanding on Wednesday night. Lowe said she could not release the memo until it is approved by the School Committee. She said 75% of union members voted in favor of it.
"I think it's a fair agreement, but not everybody was thrilled with it," Brotherton said.
Brotherton said many teachers were "thrown for a loop" by the School Committee's vote last week for students in grades 7-12 to switch to a hybrid model that includes some in-person learning on Sept. 29. Those students will start the school year learning entirely remotely.
"It's hard to pivot so quickly," Brotherton said.
Brotherton, who like Lowe is a teacher at the high school, said the School Committee has been negotiating the contract in good faith and acknowledged that the process has been delayed by the pandemic. But she said the union decided to hold the rally to send a message that teachers need to be trusted and supported.
"We think the administration will operate in good faith, but we wanted to remind them we are working without a contract," she said.
School Committee President Rachael Abell said the committee and the teachers' union had to "shift gears" from negotiating a contract to bargaining the impacts of the school reopening.
"I am optimistic that as we resume contract negotiations, we will resolve the contract," Abell said. "The dedication of the teachers on the BTA's negotiation team is second to none."
In a statement, Superintendent Suzanne Charochak noted the tentative agreement with the union on the reopening and said, "We look forward to the opening of schools and our continued collaboration with the BTA as we enter the new school year."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.