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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

June 14 EBulletin

Thank you to all of you who have participated in an NTA sponsored focus group in your buildings. The participation rate has been fabulous; the information we are gathering is proving itself invaluable. I hear from members across the district that they have never felt so exhausted. And yet, even as we anticipate this year ending, everyone I speak to is already on edge about what September will bring.  Before I talk about planning for September, I want to say something about the recent anti-racist protests following the murder of George Floyd. As you are probably aware, I have been silent on these protests in my EBulletins. I have not felt able to do justice, either to the seriousness and gravity of these protests in this historical moment, nor to what the NTA's specific role should be in promoting anti-racism, both in the moment and in the long term, in the light of these events. What I can say is that over the summer the NTA will hold a special session of its Executive Committee to strategize and continue planning the union's role in addressing systemic racism.  Planning for September

I am not an epidemiologist, but everything I see and reads points to this: The COVID-19 pandemic is not going away, and it is not only possible, but likely, that there will be another surge in cases, either late this summer, or sometime in the fall.  I am not a physician, but everything I read tells me that COVID-19 is a terrible, frightening, and gravely dangerous disease.  (I highly recommend this remarkable article in the NYTimes, whose author found ways to record and then report on intimate conversations among emergency room physicians at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital who treat COVID-19 patients. Warning: the article depicts to devastating effect the horror of this disease and its traumatic impact on those who care for its victims.) I say this, not because it is news to you, but because I want you to know that I am acutely aware that the plans and decisions we must make this summer for returning to school in the fall have life and death consequences.  So as you prepare for the summer, and the NTA prepares to bargain, here is an overview of what we will advocate for on your behalf: We will insist that the first priority be safety and health, both physical and emotional. What is most frightening is that any return to the buildings will entail some risk. That said, distance learning, as we have all learned, also entails risk, both educational and social emotional. But safety and health must be a priority. As part of this priority, we will bargain for accommodations for members who are in high risk groups.  We will bargain to protect the integrity of Newton Public School diverse programing, including in the arts, physical education, library studies, career and technical education, and, in doing so, protect the exceptional staff who provide that programming. As most of these subjects are currently taught in the buildings, their teachers come into contact with far too broad a cross-section of students in their schools. In elementary and middle schools, they often come into contact with every student in their schools. We must find a way for these classes to happen safely, without putting everyone, including the teachers themselves, at risk. We cannot and will not allow the unsustainable workload special educators suffered this year to be repeated next. During the period of distance learning, special educators in Newton carried an inordinate, excessive, and unsustainable burden. Something must change.  This spring, Unit C members were grossly underutilized. Next year, they must be full partners in educating our children. We must address the inequity of access to the curriculum. So many of you spoke of these acute inequities in students' and families' abilities to access the curriculum during our focus groups. We will bargain for a plan to address this. We must address the particular needs and risks of educators who teach our youngest students--kindergarten and pre-k. Their students and their families have the most difficult time accessing distance learning, yet it is also extremely difficult to practice social distancing with them when they are in school. We must address, and mitigate, the potentially higher risk working with this age group presents. Most importantly, we cannot return to school prematurely. We cannot go back into the buildings with plans that do not adequately protect staff and students, or during a period when the risk of spread of infection is too high. The obvious danger is that members, or students, become ill with this deadly disease. But the other risk is that the district will be forced to close all the schools again. The emotional cost of that could be traumatic, and the confidence that the schools could be safely reopened sorely compromised. We've heard the mantra repeated in the media countless times: testing, contact tracing, and quarantine. There will be new cases of COVID-19 next year. Will the Newton Public Schools be prepared to contain these new cases and limit their spread, and convince the staff, and the community, that it has done so effectively?  Any answer short of a definitive yes to this question is unacceptable. Thank you for reading. "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike  


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