Happy New Year! We woke up this morning to great news about the vote in Georgia’s two Senate races. It’s a victory for the pro-education, pro-public-health, pro-common-good agenda in Washington, D.C., after four terrible years. Make no mistake: The victory in Georgia was the product of real grassroots organizing and the power of one-to-one conversations. This is the kind of organizing that the MTA embarked upon with the onset of our All In campaign. It is the kind of organizing that is going to get us through the pandemic. It gives me renewed energy for the fights ahead.
I hope you had a chance to rest during the holidays and are ready to tackle the continuing challenges posed by COVID-19. In case you missed our end-of-year message, you can see it here. In this email, I want to say a little more about the Campaign for Safe and Equitable Schools.
As the coronavirus continues to surge and students are returning to schools after the winter break, this is a particularly stressful time for preK-12 members working in our public school buildings. It is also stressful and challenging for those who are teaching remotely. The goal, ultimately, is to get back to teaching in person safely and equitably. To do that, we are launching a statewide campaign to ensure that certain conditions are met.
- Control the spread and close nonessential services. Governor Charlie Baker must prioritize public education in his closure decisions. That means further limits on nonessential activities, with support offered to affected businesses and workers. Our students and their families need a safety net to protect them from housing and food insecurity. High-risk educators also need protections. The MTA’s Environmental Health & Safety Committee recently focused on one group of vulnerable members by unanimously approving this statement:
The MTA EH&S committee recognizes that pregnant women are a high-risk category of exposure to the SARS-Cov-2 virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, MTA members who are currently expecting mothers should not be increasing exposure to the virus by working in public facilities. Expecting mothers should be working at home during and after pregnancy to prevent unnecessary exposure. We strongly urge caution and advise members to take preventive action in the face of any uncertainty.
- Frequent, universal surveillance testing. This must be available in all public schools, and it could be paid for in part with new federal dollars allocated to Massachusetts. Our public school districts are slated to receive more than $800 million under the COVID-19 relief bill signed on Dec. 27. Some of these funds should also be used to make the needed infrastructure improvements we’ve been calling for since the spring, including improving indoor air quality.
- A robust and locally distributed vaccination program. The MTA and AFT Massachusetts are seeking to meet with state education and public health officials to advocate for a school staff vaccination program that is distributed locally and implemented as soon as possible.
As you saw with yesterday’s news on planned reductions in the MCAS testing burden this year, your voice matters! While canceling the tests altogether is the goal, because of your advocacy the state has taken a step toward a less burdensome policy by agreeing to cancel the MCAS graduation requirement and reduce the testing time through “sampling,” meaning students would only take a portion of the test and wouldn’t receive a score as if they had taken the entire test. Still, we have many questions and concerns and will keep you informed about future actions.
Stay tuned for information on what you must do to win safe and equitable schools: talking with your co-workers, taking collective action in your buildings, engaging in social media campaigns, participating in in-district legislative meetings, joining town halls on public health issues, sharing updates on educator vaccines and taking part in any other actions needed to turn this platform into a reality. We can’t win without you.