It is a time when collaboration among all stakeholders concerned with the education and safety of the children in our city and in our state could not be more important. I have the unfortunate responsibility in this week's update to tell you of some disappointing actions taken both by the NPS, the City of Newton, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that threaten these collaborative relationships.
That is not all that I will communicate in this update, and, frankly, I'm a little surprised that one week after school ends I already have so much to tell you. But I ask you to bear with me and read through, because this is all important.
Support the Heroes Act!
Did you receive an email that had these images from NEA? And if so did you click on one of them and send an email to your representatives in Washington asking them to support and advocate for the passage of the Heroes Act? If not, please do so now by clicking on one of the images below.
If you didn't open that email, you probably didn't see these images, which say more about what's at stake, and what you can do: Just click on the image below to act now:
Because NEA President Lily Eskelson Garcia is right:
Please click on one of the images above: support the Heroes Act!
Newton METCO Community Scholarship Fund
From the Newton METCO Community Scholarship Fund Committee The process of empowerment cannot be simplistically defined in accordance with our own particular class interests. We must learn to LIFT as we climb. Angela Davis On June 3, 2020, over 40 METCO seniors from both Newton North and Newton South high schools celebrated their graduation. Immersed in the two pandemics of deeply-rooted racism and the devastating COVID virus, these graduates have achieved academically, contributed to their local and school communities, and raised social justice consciousness in the cities where they learn, work, and live. These courageous 2020 METCO graduates will continue to pursue their goals and realize their dreams. They will be the change-makers and justice-makers who will create the conditions for more ethical and compassionate neighborhoods, communities, and societies. Let us join together to lift and empower them on their journeys. Please donate by mail: Newtonville, MA 02460 P.O. Box 600053 Newton METCO Community Scholarship Fund or online: Go Fund Me Thank you for supporting the Newton METCO 2020 graduates!
Yesterday, Governor Charlie Baker released DESE's reopening guidelines and, almost immediately, David Fleishman followed up with an email to the Newton parent community stating that he fully supported DESE's priority of returning to an in-person school setting. Of course, I think most of us share this priority. But are we as confident that David will follow through on his statement that "this return to in-person school will be accompanied by a comprehensive set of health and safety requirements to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure or transmission"? And do these guidelines provide the means to do so. To put Baker's announcement in context, here is a screenshot of the New York Times front page on the day he announced the new DESE guidelines:
"Texas Pauses Reopening" - "How the Virus Won" - "Arizona 'Overwhelmed' with Demand for Tests as U.S. System Shows Strain" In other words, a litany of reminders of why NOT to underestimate this virus!
Yet it seems as if from the beginning, that is exactly what these guidelines do. The discussion of the scientific evidence supporting the guidelines' claim that students can return to school full time in the fall reads more like a public relations statement than an honest assessment of the scientific and medical evidence. The discussion of faculty and staff safety appears, when it appear at all, as an afterthought.
The guidelines assert certitude where the scientific consensus is that there is uncertainty and offer reassurances that produce suspicion and doubt.
Here's a key example, indeed a pervasive theme in the study:
The guidelines assert that there is a scientific consensus that students are highly unlikely to become infected by or transmit COVID-19, and that therefore, schools are, relatively speaking, safe spaces. "In general, rates of COVID-19 infection are lower for children than for adults. Based on an analysis of data from six countries, children under 20 are half as susceptible to COVID-19 infection than adults" (p. 7). Therefore, "based on the combination of health and safety requirements and rigorous protocols that we are putting in place for the fall, we believe the risk of transmission in schools is likely lower than the risks of transmission in many other settings. Furthermore, based on available data and effective implementation of critical health and safety practices, the rate of in-school transmissions has been low" (p. 6) (emphasis in original). But this is anything but a settled conclusion, and in fact there are some very unsettling counter-examples not even mentioned in the DESE guidelines that gives most scientific experts pause about making such bald assertions as DESE makes in its guidelines. "The evidence, however, is not uniform. Some global studies indicate that children are equally likely as adults to become infected, to infect others, or develop antibodies to the virus." "A recent study in Germany concluded that a child currently infected with COVID-19 has a similar amount of contagious virus (viral load) as an infected adult, indicating that children may be as likely to infect others as adults."
"A study of pupils and staff in one French high school found that more than 40 percent of pupils had been previously infected and developed antibodies, as did a significant portion of parents and siblings of those students, indicating that the adolescents in the school had a high propensity to become infected and pass the virus on to others (Fontanet et al., 2020)."
In other words, at best what we know now is that "[a] preponderance of existing evidence suggests that attack rates for children (percentage of children that become infected when exposed) are somewhat lower than the attack rate for adults. There is less evidence, however, that infected children are not as likely to spread the disease than infected adults."
From Considerations for Reopening PA Schools, from the Regional Educational Laboratory of the Mid-Atlantic, co-authors Bill Gill, Ravi Goyal, Jacob Hartog, John Hotchkiss, and Danielle DeLisle.
David Fleishman and I obviously disagree: he asserts that he is "pleased that the guidance is firmly grounded in medical expertise and was developed in consultation with, and is supported by, the Massachusetts medical community, including the MA chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics,"
I think we should all be far less sanguine, and I expect far better from our district and our state leaders.In this pandemic, the scientific and medical literature remains largely provisional; the medical, scientific, and public health experts are still figuring it out, and are often wrong, sometimes maddeningly so. The best advice they often offer is to be cautious, indeed cautious about what they, as scientists, can currently say with assurance. This was clear in the immediate follow-up to Baker's announcement. ("On Reopening Schools, Scientists Say Proceed with Caution")
(To see one incredibly consequential example of how things can go awry in the scientific community, read the article"How the World Missed COVID-19's Silent Spread"in today's New York Times, which shows how a combination of narcissistic academic competitiveness and jealousy, bureaucratic inertia, and politics prevented the dissemination of the potentially life-saving knowledge that COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic carriers of virus. The failure to heed this discovery helped give COVID-19 a free pass to become the pandemic we currently endure.)
I am equally distressed that David asserts that "our planning teams in the Newton Public Schools have already begun working on plans..... We anticipate our plans for the fall will be finalized by the week of July 20" (my emphasis).
The planning teams have not yet met. Next week everyone will be taking a well deserved and much needed vacation. So David just promised to the Newton Public Schools parent community that four planning teams that have not yet met will finalize plans they have not yet begun in a little over two weeks. These teams will radically reconfigure teaching and learning, transportation, and building safety protocols, which will be in place for much of the 2020-2021 school year. Moreover, the changes will require a temporary revision, via a negotiated Memorandum of Agreement, to our collective bargaining agreements, which also must be completed in this same tight time frame.
And, on top of that, we still need to negotiate what accommodations will be necessary for educators who cannot risk working in person. And what accommodations will be needed and in place for students who cannot risk attending school in person. All this, David confidently states, will be accomplish in a little more than two weeks.
Last spring, David did exactly the same things: he sent an email to the parent community stating that the district would be revising the NPS Distance Learning Plan on a very tight timeframe.
This led to much unnecessary stress and frustration, and frankly, much unduly high pressured work for many of our members, especially our Unit B members and special educators. And it resulted in a plan that made sparse use of a third of the NPS workforce, Unit C, and worked special education teachers to the bone.
I told David then that his premature communication was unacceptable. He apologized. Yet he just did the same thing again. So his apology seems to have been of the sort: "Better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission." No thanks. No forgiveness.
Let's be clear about what is at stake: your lives, your families' lives, and your students' and their families' lives. We need to get this right, or at least as right as possible! What is going on here? Are our leaders at the state and local level taking their responsibility seriously, or they just pandering to public opinion?
Or in David's case, is he deliberately trying to rob educators of a voice in these decisions? Does he already know what he wants as an outcome, and is he just using these task forces, and the educator participants on them, as foils in a PR campaign? "We sought educators input." David, this is a recipe for cynicism!
WE as a Union need to let David know that this is an unacceptable way to treat the educators who give their all for the students of Newton...who in fact just gave their all in one of the most trying and difficult periods of our collective lives.
Here is what you can do:
Using your personal email address, write to David Fleishman and copy Ruth Goldman, Chair of the School Committee. Use your personal email because that makes it clear that you are writing as an NTA member, and as such, your words are protected by state and federal law. As a member of the NTA, you can feel confident to speak to David and Ruth as your equals. You should of course be respectful and professional, but please be candid and direct.
Here are some suggestions of what you might tell/ask him, although I'm sure there is more you can think of on your own:
Tell him that you are frustrated that he communicates first to the community, and, then, in effect, "copies" the faculty on that communication. (As he put it in his email to staff: "Below is a communication I will send shortly to the NPS community, following the guidance from DESE earlier today.")
Ask him about his impossible deadline.
Ask him why he has communicated to the parent community that they have already been working on plans for the fall, since none of the planning teams have yet met.
Ask him how he views the role of educators on those teams. Specifically, ask him if he already has a plan in mind, and simply wants educators to rubber stamp that plan. Because certainly those planning teams cannot accomplish the enormous task in front of them in two weeks if the district actually expects the members to have meaningful input into the process.
Tell him you have been unsettled by the unnervingly cavalier attitude towards educator safety in the DESE guidelines.Ask him to explain to you how he plans on developing "a comprehensive set of health and safety requirements" based on those guidelines.
Finally, if you or a member of your household is at high risk from COVID-19 infection, please contact Jill Murray, Interim HR Director, and, if your email does not disclose personal information, copy David Fleishman.
Ask her what the district's plans are to accommodate employees who cannot safely return to the schools next fall.
Ask if you should be applying for medical leave. Ask what documentation you should submit.
Ask if there will be opportunities for you to work via distance teaching.
If she does not know the answer to these questions now, ask her if she will know sometime in the week of July 20th.
The NTA remains vigilant! Clearly David needs a reminder of this. Please send him many many reminders.
Nurses' Association Contract Negotiations on Hold; Rally at City Hall!
Twenty-eight school nurses will rally this Wednesday at 4:00 pm at Newton City Hall to protest the city's failure to negotiate in good faith. Let's join them. They had our backs during our negotiations; they need our support now.
Even though the nurses work in the schools, they bargain with the Mayor, not the School Committee. Last fall, the teachers, the custodians, and the secretaries, who all bargain with the School Committee, agreed to fair and reasonable contracts.
The nurses received their first proposal from the Mayor around the same time we were near finishing our negotiations! Under any circumstances, the proposal would have been insulting; in the context of our settlements, it was outrageous.
Now, during a pandemic in which these same nurses will be putting themselves at high risk to protect Newton's children, the Mayor, on the last day of school, abruptly pulled out of negotiations altogether.Could she possibly be more tone deaf?
And to see how much money is at stake in perspective, in her most recent update the Mayor wrote that she would be opening the city's libraries on Sundays at a cost of $100,000.Yet offering school nurses the same raises that the School Committee awarded educators, custodians, and secretaries would only cost the city an additional $48,000 per year!
Could Mayor Fuller possibly be more tone deaf? No, she could not!
In fact, the Mayor's actions puts everyone, students and staff, at more risk, as you can see below.
Sue Riley, President of their Association, asked me to share the following statement with you:
"Due to the Mayor's unwillingness to negotiate, the Nurses informed the city that we do not work in the summer and, other than contract issues, we will not be available. Our work year starts the day before school begins and ends the day school is completed. Usually we would do whatever it takes to help support the schools and our students during the summer months, on our own time. It is very unfortunate that we were forced to take this unprecedented step, especially amid a global pandemic. School Nurses will be a crucial part of school reopening and this point should be recognized and valued by our Mayor, but clearly it is not.
I am reaching out to you, the members of the NTA, to ask for the teachers' support. I hope we can depend on the NTA to help get our message across that the Nurses deserve a fair, professional salary."
Let's join the 28 nurses as they rally this Wednesday at 4:00 pm at Newton City Hall to protest the city's failure to negotiate in good faith!
MTA Virtual Summer Conference
MTA’s Division of Training & Professional Learning invites members to register for the first-ever Virtual Summer Conference. We offer a wide range of exciting, interactive programs spread throughout the summer to meet the needs of our members in this moment. The programming at Virtual Summer Conference will position our union to stay strong as we begin our Now, More Than Ever campaign. Offerings include:
New special events programming including a speaker series, town halls, movie nights and more
Learning Tracks: New Presidents, New Members, and Next Generation Leadership
PDP courses: 12-15 hours towards recertification in English learners, special education and technology
Union education workshops, with topics including COVID-19, collective bargaining, member advocacy and organizing, and many more
Professional development workshops on student mental health, social emotional learning and social justice & racial equity
Programming designed especially for Education Support Professionals and Higher Education member
For more information and to register for any programs, please visit massteacher.org/summer.
Thank you for reading. "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike