Teachers with the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) overwhelmingly expressed concern about the safety of in-person instruction this fall, in a statewide virtual meeting held Wednesday, July 29. (A recording of the meeting may be viewed online at the MTA website and on YouTube.)
MTA, which represents 110,000 preK-12 and public higher ed teachers, librarians, and staff, held the meeting to share information about the state’s planned approaches to reopening schools, current research about transmission of COVID-19, and a checklist of key safety precautions.
The virtual meeting was well-attended, with sixteen thousand members vying for ten thousand slots.
Members expressed substantial concerns about safety of face-to-face instruction this fall, posting hundreds of comments into an open chat window in just a few minutes. After reviewing infection data and health standards, members were then asked if they felt their districts and schools were prepared to reopen safely in the fall. Members reported overwhelmingly that their buildings were “not prepared” or “somewhat prepared” to open safely. (Results reviewed at 33:15-34:00.) Of the 7,371 who responded, only 1% said that their buildings were fully prepared; 58% said their buildings were not prepared, and 41% said somewhat prepared.
MTA separately polled support for a statement highlighting the safety and health concerns and the disparate effect of COVID-19 on communities of color and high-risk individuals, and resolving that members would “refuse to return to unsafe school buildings” until “the districts and the state … demonstrate that health and safety conditions and negotiated public health benchmarks” have been met. Member support for this statement was 80%. (Statement below.) The statement also recognized that the state mandated requirement of 180 instruction days had been reduced to 170, and pledged to use those days to “redesign learning.”
MTA leaders also urged members to contact state representatives to insist on funding for COVID-19 related expenses, and to support higher education through a campaign at MassachusettsAgrees.org and a petition at https://MassTeacher.org/hepetition .
The full-text of the MTA Statement, approved by 80% of attending members, July 29, 2020:
“Educators across Massachusetts miss their students and are eager to resume learning in-person, as that is how education is supposed to be. Our greatest collective obligation, however, is to keep students, educators, families and communities out of harm’s way and to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 in our communities and across the state. Therefore, the districts and the state must demonstrate that health and safety conditions and negotiated public health benchmarks are met before buildings reopen.
The different abilities of communities to meet these standards reflects the profound inequality of our society by class and race. The legacy of structural racism through community disinvestment has left Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students, educators and communities with higher risk factors and worse outcomes, all while depriving them of resources to meet these standards. Middle-class and affluent communities will be better suited to meet necessary health and safety benchmarks.
Until the point when districts and the state can meet these criteria, we will refuse to return to unsafe school buildings and we will use the 10 additional days at the start of the 2020-2021 school year before instruction of students begins to redesign learning.”