ANDOVER — The morning after the School Committee voted unanimously to take legal action against the Andover Education Association, teachers who refused to work inside the buildings Monday as part of a “workplace safety action” were back in their classrooms.

“Our members have voted to suspend our workplace safety action due to the excessive and punitive measures management took (Monday) to stifle and obstruct our ability to prepare for this school year,” reads a statement issued by the AEA on Tuesday morning. “Instead, we will reluctantly enter school buildings ... under duress, and hope that the School Committee will begin to negotiate reasonable health and safety benchmarks with us in good faith.”

While union members decided to comply with the district’s request to work in the school buildings, members have taken a “no-confidence” vote in Superintendent Sheldon Berman.

“Superintendent Berman has shown persistent disregard for educators. He does not respect our professionalism and fails to take a cooperative approach in addressing the many challenges that face the district,” the Tuesday statement reads.

“His behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic has reached a point where his autocratic style of management can no longer be tolerated, as it jeopardizes the health and safety of students, educators and the community at large.”

In an executive session that began at 4:30 p.m. Monday afternoon, the School Committee voted unanimously to allow the district counsel to petition the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations in order to take legal action against the union for creating a “work stoppage,” effectively a strike.

This followed a tense day at the Andover schools, where teachers sat with their laptops working in the grass outside the high school as the Fire Department checked potential safety hazards arising from a generator the union used to power wifi. In addition, the school administration wouldn’t allow teachers to use the restrooms.

About 500 of Andover's 800 educators had signed on with the union to work outside school buildings Monday morning, according to AEA’s President Matthew Bach.

Last week the union held an emergency meeting where a majority of members voted to begin the school year remotely rather than hold classes inside, citing safety concerns over the coronavirus.

On Aug. 10 the School Committee voted to open in a hybrid model this fall, which is a combination of in-person and online learning. Teachers were expected to report to work in the school buildings Monday for a day of professional development. Students return to school Sept. 16.

“Today was an important day for our educators to report to work in-person for professional development,” Berman wrote in a statement announcing the School Committee’s decision to take legal action.

“The district was prepared to train our staff on the safety protocols, cleaning protocols and health mandates developed to maintain a safe environment in all our school buildings," he continued. "It is a missed opportunity on the part of the AEA to see for themselves the precautions and care we have implemented on their behalf, and on behalf of our students.”

Bach said the union was to hold a negotiation session Tuesday afternoon with the School Committee. The results were not available before press time for this story. 

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