The MTA issued the following statement to the media today:
The MTA held a virtual meeting yesterday afternoon that drew more than 7,500 members and asked them to discuss and vote at the local level on a motion passed by the MTA Board of Directors stating: “Therefore, the districts and the state must demonstrate that health and safety conditions and negotiated public health benchmarks are met before buildings reopen.”
Merrie Najimy, president of the 116,000-member union, asked local associations to vote on the statement and report back to the MTA by Aug. 7. As of last night, about 40 locals had already endorsed the position.
The statement is meant to guide local members in their deliberations with school district officials about the best way to ensure student success during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, the decision about what model to follow is made locally, with teaching conditions negotiated with local educators’ unions.
“We can't talk about how the MTA came to this position without talking about history. Decades of economic policies have allowed the 1 percent to prosper — even increasing their net worth by billions of dollars during the pandemic — while disinvesting in the public good has left almost everyone else behind. One of the many consequences is that our school buildings don't have properly functioning ventilation systems to keep the indoor air safe.”MTA President Merrie Najimy
All MTA members were invited to participate over Zoom in Wednesday’s meeting, which was the largest in the MTA’s 175-year history. Participants were polled on several questions. Asked if they support the board statement, 80 percent answered “yes,” 17 percent responded “not sure,” and only 3 percent said “no.”
“We can't talk about how the MTA came to this position without talking about history,” Najimy said. “Decades of economic policies have allowed the 1 percent to prosper — even increasing their net worth by billions of dollars during the pandemic — while disinvesting in the public good has left almost everyone else behind. One of the many consequences is that our school buildings don't have properly functioning ventilation systems to keep the indoor air safe.”
She continued, “We long for the day when it is safe to return to working with our students, as there is no substitute for students and educators relating to one another in person. But in most if not all schools right now, the health and safety concerns are insurmountable. As our members have been saying, ‘We are essential — not expendable.’”
Najimy said no one is safe from the coronavirus. She noted that in addition to Black and Latinx educators, those who are older and those who have high-risk conditions, the most vulnerable populations are Black and Latinx students and their families, many of whom live in low-income communities.
“Racist policies have left them without adequate health care, leading to worse outcomes,” Najimy said. “Schools in those districts have the fewest resources to meet health and safety standards.
“We have laid out 19 conditions that must be met for schools to reopen,” she continued. “They are informed by guidance from health experts nationwide and include the need for testing and contact tracing; public health benchmarks that guide both reopening and closures; proper air circulation and purification systems; PPE for everyone in the school; distancing of six feet, as recommended by the CDC; mask wearing for everyone; adequate nursing and custodial services; and accommodations for students and staff who have health concerns for themselves or the people they live with.
“We can’t let focusing on how to meet all of these conditions prevent us from moving forward with planning for a more connected and exciting education experience this year,” Najimy said. “This is what educators do best. This is what more than 7,500 educators began to brainstorm about at our meeting yesterday. Now that we have the 10 days to plan, we can redesign learning for the year ahead.”
On Monday, the MTA announced that the MTA, AFT Massachusetts, the Boston Teachers Union and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had reached an agreement allowing districts to reduce the school year for students to 170 days so that teachers and other staff have 10 days to plan, prepare and develop curricula and instructional strategies that will engage students.
“We have an opportunity to make this school year under COVID-19 more meaningful and engaging for students,” Najimy said. “That includes addressing the current crises that are impacting all of us, from the pandemic to attacks on Black lives and on our democracy. We need to address student stress and trauma. We need to be creative to make sure students are learning, thinking and doing so that they come out of this crisis informed, inspired and ready to take on the world.”