Last week, AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos joined BTU President Jessica Tang and Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy in a town hall with Senator Elizabeth Warren, focused on how to safely open our schools. You can watch the town hall here.
“I’ve got news for President Trump and Republicans who are trying to politicize the safety and well-being of our students and our teachers. We can’t just snap our fingers and the reopen schools,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “Teachers have done their part. They scrambled to take their entire classrooms online and have worked hard with families to try to keep kids learning during this crisis. And school staff like cafeteria workers have done their part, getting meals to students in need. Administrators have done their part. Bus drivers have done their part. Everyone has been doing their part for our kids.”
“We all want schools to be able to open safely as soon as possible. But safely reopening schools is going to require real leadership and careful planning that puts the safety of students, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, school nurses, cafeteria workers, and all of our school staff first,” she continued. “That’s why educators and staff have to be at the table for these decisions.”
“We’re concerned about the health and safety of our students and our educators, and that’s paramount in our minds. We believe it’s imperative to assess the health of our buildings before we return to the classroom; the ventilation systems must be evaluated and improved. We need the water in our bathrooms to be at 100 degrees at all times; I’m not sure that’s happened at any school I’ve worked at,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “Our families need assurance that these health and safety checks have happened and will be maintained throughout the school year. We’re doing this because we care about the children and the families they go home to.”
“The current plan is backwards. We cannot bring all of our students back in person in September on the first day of school as much as we want to,” said Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang. “What we need to do is have a thoughtful approach where we have to get remote learning right…It’s likely there’s going to be another surge, and we cannot just scramble overnight to try to get remote learning right like we did in the spring.”
After our opening statements Senator Warren took questions from educators.
“There are no cutting corners when it comes to Covid-19 because lives are at stakes on every side. Betsy DeVos is proposing taking money from the public schools and giving it to the private sector,” said Sonia Watson, Para-educator and Building Representative from Freedman Elementary in Springfield. “If this was to happen it would create a great financial hardship for our public schools system to maintain Covid-19 safety protocol. What measures is Congress willing to take to ensure that our public schools do not loose any more funding?”
“Let me be clear on this: any policies to try to bribe or arm twist our public schools into disregarding public health guidance is a nonstarter for Democrats. Our public schools were starved for resources before this pandemic, so choking off critical funding for them during a pandemic because they’ve made the tough decisions to keep our students and our teachers safe is dangerous and foolish,” responded Senator Warren. “We need to be keeping our public resources in public schools, not letting Betsy DeVos’ privatization agenda accelerate during this crisis.”
“If schools aren’t able to open safely in person or we have a hybrid model, I’m curious how policymakers are going to support families who may need childcare, specifically if states aren’t requiring shelter in place and parents are going to have to go back to work,“ asked Sam Texeira, a high school history teacher at the Henderson Inclusion School in Boston.
“We can’t begin to have an economic recovery without affordable childcare,” responded Senator Warren. “We need to make the investment in childcare right now. If we don’t support those childcare centers and treat them like basic infrastructure in the economy, than that’s going to mean millions of parents simply can’t go back to work. That’s why I’m fighting for $50 billion in emergency support in the next relief package so we can keep childcare providers in business now and start to make the kind of long-term investments that we need to make so that families will be able to find affordable , high-quality childcare for their children.”
One major focus of the town hall was providing our schools with the resource they need to reopen safely. From ensuring that our schools have adequate ventilation and cleaning supplies, to hiring the teachers and paraprofessionals necessary for safe teacher-student ratios, our schools need full funding, now more than ever. The Heroes Act is essential for federal funding for the opening of our schools. You can sign a petition for the passing of the Heroes Act here.
“Congress needs to act now to invest real money into stabilizing our state and local governments, stabilizing our child care, our K-12 public schools, and our colleges — instead of blocking critical aid or using federal money to bribe schools into making dangerous public health decisions,” said Senator Warren. “The lives of our students, the lives of our teachers, the lives of our school staff are on the line. And we will not allow their safety to be used as a bargaining chip.”