We are in extraordinary times. During this global pandemic, we need physical distancing but social connection. Your union is an important link to some of those connections — with your colleagues and your community.
On Friday, March 13, the MTA’s call to close schools was highly visible in the media. Presidents of large locals started a letter-writing campaign to the governor. By Sunday night, the governor had closed all public schools. Since then, we have helped our locals develop Memoranda of Understanding that guarantee ALL employees are paid, protect sick leave benefits, and more.
But this isn’t over. A more complicated issue to tackle is how to address learning at home without deepening the inequity for our most disadvantaged students — and while ensuring that you and your families get what you need to be healthy and supported during this pandemic.
We have some important updates and resources to share with you.
One Way or Another, Annual Meeting Will Be Held This Spring
Planning is currently underway for the Annual Meeting, which — as of now — is scheduled for May 1 and 2 in Springfield. Whether virtually or in person, the meeting will be held this spring. The Board will decide in mid-April when and how the meeting will be held; therefore, we are reminding members to run to be delegates and local presidents that they need to hold delegate elections. A strong, democratically controlled union is more important than ever in these challenging times. Stay tuned for an email with further information.
Standing Up for the Common Good During This Crisis
Although this crisis has posed many difficulties for our members, our students and our families, it also provides our society with an opportunity to advance the common good. Now is our time to stand up for educating the whole child, for providing education workers — and all workers — with the salaries and health benefits they need and deserve, for relieving college students from excessive debt, and much more. Please read a message from me and MTA Vice President Max Page to the Board and local presidents and download a document that we’ve created, "Facing the Coronavirus as a Just Community: An Agenda for Our Public Schools and Colleges and for the Common Good." Here is one example of how the Haverhill Education Association is defending the common good.
Remote Learning in PreK-12 Schools
In a rush to close schools for three weeks and set students up to learn from home, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education left a lot of leeway for decisions to be made at the local level. While we believe strongly in local control, the flexibility in implementing programs has created a great disparity in how locals are conducting learning from home. This has caused stress for our members and their students and families.
Remote learning is a complex issue, from preK through higher ed. It needs serious consideration and planning before it is implemented. In addition, our first priority must be tending to the health and well-being of our students and members and finding ways to stay connected to them and each other. The MTA’s position is that preK-12 locals should not be agreeing to terms that attempt to replicate school at home. I have invited AFT Massachusetts to join us and our Center for Education Policy and Practice member committee to develop principles and recommendations for how to support our students and educators around the state in this endeavor.
We are bringing our principles on remote learning to the commissioner of education, and to the associations representing school committees, superintendents and principals, with the insistence that any guidance on remote learning be created in collaboration with the MTA and AFT Massachusetts.
Higher Education Goes Remote
There was a similar rush to transition higher education to remote learning. Max and I are in weekly conversations with the commissioner of higher education to support our members and students in this transition.
Many members worked over spring break to prepare for online instruction. However, there are still fundamental issues that need careful attention, such as: Is remote learning only about finishing up the delivery of content? What are the implications for discussion-based classes or classes that rely on laboratory materials or art studios? What do students do if they don’t have access to technology?
Higher ed members have been fighting hard to ensure that our members who are still working on campus have the personal protective equipment they need to keep themselves and students safe and healthy. Management has been inconsistent in designating which personnel are truly “essential,” potentially exposing members to needless risk. Higher ed members of the MTA and other unions are supporting the students still in residence, but we are demanding that the campuses close to the public and limit the number of essential employees. The 17 unions of the UMass Unions United coalition are also demanding that all employees — whether staff, faculty or graduate students — continue to receive full pay.
It’s Time to End MCAS
In a call to halt MCAS for the year — regardless of when or whether school resumes — members and community allies have flooded DESE with 4,068-plus letters. The governor has filed legislation to give state education officials the authority to reduce, modify or cancel MCAS completely for the year. Be on standby for more action if it becomes necessary.