A Public School Reopening Plan Worth Fighting For

A Public School Reopening Plan Worth Fighting For

The following message was sent to MTA members today by President Merrie Najimy and Vice President Max Page:

Dear Members,

We want to acknowledge right at the start that we know there is nothing that all of us would love to do more than be back in our school buildings with our students, educating and learning together in person.

We also know that you love your students as whole people, not just as future workers who need particular skills. You cultivate creative, generous, caring, active adults. You cultivate citizens for a democracy. For these reasons we know that you start with the most basic commitment: to care for the health and welfare of your students, your colleagues and yourself. No U.S. president, no governor and no commissioner of education will be allowed to get in the way of this first, fundamental obligation.

You have made it clear through local, regional and statewide conversations and through myriad social media discussions: The health and safety of our students, our educators and our families cannot be sacrificed in order to get students back into the buildings. Nothing short of our lives and those of our students, families and communities is at stake here.

We must fight together for the conditions that make it possible to return to our beloved public schools. If we determine that the government has failed to respond to those conditions, we, as union members and educators, will need to determine what kind of education is best for our students – their social and emotional well-being, as well as their academic success – this fall while we continue to fight for a safe and just return to learning. This message concerns returning to our preK-12 schools. In other messages, we will address concerns in public higher education.

We have a plan and a statewide campaign. Now we need you.
The MTA, AFT Massachusetts and BTU have developed a Public School Reopening Proposal, centering physical health and safety standards combined with a phased-in approach to resuming teaching and learning in the fall. These proposals have garnered 97 percent support from well over 300 MTA local association leaders with whom we have been meeting in the last two weeks to finalize the plans. The reopening proposal also enjoys tremendous support from AFT Massachusetts locals, including the Boston Teachers Union. Last week, the MTA, AFT Massachusetts and the BTU began formal talks – we are treating them like negotiations – with Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. We laid down these demands and will be hearing the commissioner’s response this week.

We have asked the MTA’s local association presidents to share the proposal with all of their members this week, seeking member endorsement. We then ask you to send the proposals on to your superintendents and school committees as central components of your local bargaining demands. By doing so, you will send the message to superintendents, school committees, the commissioner and the governor that the MTA, AFT Massachusetts and the BTU are united on what it will take to return to our public school buildings.

Our statewide coordinated bargaining campaign.
While this time is riddled with uncertainty, fear and anxiety, it offers us a chance to use the trust that our communities put in us as educators to demand the kind of schooling that is safe and just. We can seize the moment and exert our collective power to organize in a way that we never have before. Now is our moment to have a statewide, coordinated bargaining campaign. Here are the elements:

First, The MTA will be negotiating the Public School Reopening Proposal with DESE on Tuesdays and Thursdays through July and holding statewide caucuses with leaders and members on Wednesdays and Fridays to debrief the DESE meetings and plan actions. Please contact your local president for more information.

Second, to strengthen our hand with DESE and legislative leaders, we ask that each local place these proposals on the table as part of local negotiations, doing so in coordination with each other – local to local and region to region. The MTA’s Environmental Health and Safety committee has created EH&S bargaining materials to assist locals. There will be an EH&S town hall on Wednesday, July 15, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. MTA staff are helping to develop strong contract language on each of the key issues. Surrounding all of these negotiations and using our existing county educators’ associations and regional MEANs (Massachusetts Education Action Networks) will be coordinated, collective action with students and families across the state each week. If you aren’t involved in one of these networks, talk to your local leaders to find out how to connect.

Third, to really move the campaign, we need each local to create a Contract Action Team. A CAT is made up of rank-and-file members, ideally with representatives from each building, whose responsibilities include communication with members and among members and the negotiating team, as well as organizing campaign actions. We also can’t win without partnering with families. Crisis learning remotely has given educators a new opportunity to relate to parents because of the frequency with which you have interacted recently. Let’s build on these relationships and bring families into the plans of your CATs. Will you volunteer to be a member of a CAT? If so, talk to your local association leadership.

Fourth, because some needs can only be addressed at the legislative level, we need to intensify our advocacy. Here are some ways to do your part:

  • Tell your story so we can share it with the Legislature.
  • Show up for the regular in-district (via conference call) legislative visits. For information about those visits, contact Tim Warren of MTA’s Grassroots Campaigns Division at twarren@massteacher.org.
  • Rally for progressive taxes this week: July 15 is Tax Day this year. There are outdoor rallies Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that we helped organize with the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition to get the Legislature to pass tax increases on wealthy investors and highly profitable corporations to prevent catastrophic cuts to our public schools and colleges.
  • Stop the MCAS: Our students will be coming back with social, emotional and academic needs that we don’t yet fully understand. Having MCAS waiting in the wings will obstruct any hope we have of coping with our students’ needs. We have partnered with Senator Jo Comerford to write a bill that would stop the MCAS for four years as we reconsider this destructive high-stakes accountability system.

Ultimately, educators, students and families have the power to decide when the conditions are right for us to resume learning in the fall. Let’s harness that power and win the return that our communities need.

In solidarity,

Merrie and Max