AFT Massachusetts sent a letter to Governor Baker expressing 'deep disappointment' with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's new guidance for school reopening, especially the failure to follow CDC guidelines and mandate masks for students under the age of 12, who are not currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
"The release of this guidance was an opportunity to lead on health and safety, but your Administration missed the mark by issuing weak and ineffective guidance on masking," reads the letter from AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. "You still have time to change course before the school year begins, and we urge you to do so by immediately instituting a universal masking mandate for all preK-12 public schools."
With public education undergoing such challenging conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to have lawmakers who understand what it’s like in our classrooms. That’s why so many AFT members across the country are putting their hat in the ring; running for office to serve their communities on school committees, in town halls, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress.
One AFT Massachusetts member who serves in public office is Dracut School Committee Member Renee Young, a history teacher at Billerica Memorial High School and member of the Billerica Federation of Teachers.
Last summer, in response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the protests against police brutality that took place across the country soon after, the Berklee Faculty Union formed a new Anti-Racism Committee (ARC). Many other organizations, including AFT Massachusetts locals, have formed similar groups to more actively participate in the Black Lives Matter movement and to organize against racism in our institutions.
For Prince Charles Alexander, a Professor at Berklee who teaches advanced production and mixing and serves as Chair of the Berklee Faculty Union’s ARC, this moment is reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s.
“Right now is as interesting of a climate as the Civil Rights Movement; there’s as much momentum as I’ve seen since then,” said Prince Charles, who recalls his aunt traveling to Washington, D.C. to attend the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. “The Civil Rights Movement included white people, Black people, Hispanic people, and Asian people in a unified effort – that’s what it takes to achieve real change. If Black people didn’t create racism, how can they solve it? We need white people to step up and be involved in these goals.”
“At one of the community forums we held, I remember parents saying that they went through their entire education without having teachers that looked like them,” said Ann Berman, President of the Salem Teachers Union. “We are proud to work with Salem Public Schools to make an intentional effort to remedy that problem.”
The new contract builds upon Salem Public School’s key priorities including the desire to be an anti-racist district and specifically contains multilingual material and incentive requirements. These requirements include:
job postings be made in English and Spanish
recruitment differential for bilingual staff,
and efforts to expand culturally responsive library materials in every school.
The Union and Salem Public Schools also reached agreements on other “common good” provisions such as affirming the district’s previous strong commitment to safe and well maintained school facilities for all. Salem Public Schools invested substantially and early during the pandemic in investigating and improving air handling equipment in every school in the district. The FY2022 City capital budget includes an additional $1,134,000 in investments in school buildings and equipment, further demonstrating the district’s commitment to ensuring safe and accessible learning environments for all Salem staff and students.
AFT Massachusetts is a statewide federation of more than 50 autonomous locals that represent more than 23,000 members—including teachers, school support workers, librarians, higher education faculty and staff, healthcare professionals, and public employees. We have a long, proud tradition of empowering our locals and members to fight for improved teaching and learning conditions, as well as better salaries and benefits through collective bargaining and action.
AFT Massachusetts is seeking an organizer to assist locals and members with capacity building, internal organizing, parent/student/bargaining support, and statewide and regional coalition and issue-based support.
There is good news on the horizon for Massachusetts schools and students. Massachusetts school districts are slated to receive more than $2 billion in federal education aid over the coming year, thanks to federal COVID-19 relief packages passed since March 2020, the most recent being the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This federal money, in tandem with promised state-level investments in K-12 education, could have a positive impact on Massachusetts students for years to come.
It is useful to think of the two streams of funding—federal ESSER and state SOA—as working in tandem. Full ESSER funds (from Rounds I, II, and III) will arrive in districts over the next year for use through September 2024. Meanwhile, state SOA monies will ramp up steadily over six years—with new money added each year on top of the previous year’s baseline—until full funding of SOA is achieved in 2027. What this means is that districts could strategically use ESSER funds now to accelerate investments in students and schools (e.g., smaller classes, more social workers and nurses, better wages for paraprofessionals, HVAC improvements, etc.) and then use SOA funds to sustain those investments. The timing is quite conducive to this strategy, with SOA ramping up at the same time that ESSER ramps down.
Join us for our Summer Leadership Institute, a series of virtual workshops for local leaders and members to refine their leadership skills as well as to promote participation and initiative in our union! We have a range of different classes and with this institute we aim to come together across the state for conversation and learning.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen clearly just how important unions are for working people. By joining together through our union, we can win safer working conditions, earn better pay and benefits, and advocate together for public policy changes that we would never get on our own,” says AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “Our success as a union depends on individual members joining together to win changes in their communities. We’re excited to bring our Summer Leadership Institute back this year to train and engage union members and leaders across the state.”
“The Summer Leadership Institute helped make me a stronger and more engaged union activist,” says Kim Luz, Fall River Federation of Paraprofessionals. “It’s a terrific opportunity to connect with union members and leaders from across the state, learn new skills, and develop strategies to bring back to my union.”
Follow the link and complete the form to register for the workshop. Sign up for one or as many as you'd like!
The last year has been incredibly difficult for students, for educators, and for parents, but the light at the end of the tunnel is now in sight. With the state’s vaccination campaign continuing to progress and the approval this week of a vaccine for children ages 12 and over, there is a clear pathway to full school reopening this fall. With a new administration in Washington, our school districts are finally receiving the resources they need to recover from the pandemic. However, we have major work to do to overcome a lingering lack of trust within communities hit hardest by COVID-19, and to ensure that full school reopening this fall is done safely and equitably.
This summer, we need an all-hands-on-deck approach, supported by federal funding, to prepare our school buildings and systems for a safe reopening in the fall. In September, we need major investments to provide students with additional academic support through tutoring and smaller class sizes, as well as social-emotional support through counselors and other mental health professionals. We especially need additional support for students with special needs, English language learners, and other students who have struggled the most during the pandemic.
As a union, we know there is no economic justice without racial justice. For decades, Black labor union members have organized to win social, political and economic justice for all working Americans through the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
“Asa Philip Randolph was a legendary figure in the labor movement and the civil rights movement, and we’re carrying on his work today by bringing the entire labor movement together in the fight for racial justice at work, in our schools, and throughout our communities,” says McInnis. “We invite members from local unions to join us in raising the voices of Black workers and advancing the cause of social and economic justice for working families throughout Massachusetts and across the nation.”
Wednesday, April 7 is Paraprofessional Appreciation Day, a national day when we celebrate our paraprofessionals and highlight the contributions of paraprofessionals to their students and schools. Over the last year, paraprofessionals have gone above and beyond to meet the needs of students and support the work of our schools under incredibly challenging circumstances.
“The past year would not have been possible without our paraprofessionals – period. When schools closed a year ago, paras stepped up to make sure students received food, help with technology, and the other resources necessary to create a safe learning environment at home,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “This school year, paraprofessionals dealt with ever-changing job descriptions as they worked to support students in remote, hybrid, and in-person learning models. As we work to safely return more students to full-time in-person learning, paras are at the front lines, ensuring that students stay safe and receive the academic, emotional, and social support they need to get back on track.”