What an awful week for educators all over Massachusetts.
On Tuesday, February 23, Commissioner Riley issued his edict on “Expanding In-Person Learning this Spring”: All elementary schools currently in hybrid mode must return to full in person learning at the latest by early April…rumors are that the date is likely April 5th. This, coupled with the fact that the U.S Department of Education will not grant waivers this year for standardized testing, makes it pretty clear that the date for a return to full in person learning is scheduled to coincide with the beginning of MCAS.
Here in Newton, this means that so much good work we are doing with the district just became much more narrowly constrained.
First, more about the good work we are doing, all of which is not lost. Last week, I shared the progress we have made with the district on surveillance testing and ventilation. I would like now to share information on the work we have begun to return elementary students to full in person learning later this spring--before this edict--on our own terms.
Although there is certainly no consensus on whether a return to full in-person learning at the elementary level is a good idea, we were working together with the district to find a best approach. Chris Walsh had put together a team of teachers to work with Eva Thompson, Mary Eich, and a number of other elementary administrators to look at how it could be done. What was clear was that the district was going to work with us, that nothing was cut in stone—neither dates of implementation, nor length of the school day. They certainly wanted a plan to move forward…but the NTA was going to be very much a part of the planning.
When Chris and I met with David, Mary and Eva on February 19, we learned that we differed on some things--the best date for implementation being a big one—but David was very clear that the recommendations of the planning team would be central to any decisions he made. And because Chris had played such an important part in creating that planning team and recruiting the NTA members on it, we had confidence in its recommendations.
Interestingly—the one area David and his team said they had limited flexibility was around lunch. Based on advice from their ad hoc medical advisory board, they had concluded it would not be safe to have children eating lunch closer than six feet from each other. For this reason, David, Mary, and Eva told us it would likely NOT be possible to bring ALL students back full time ALL day, because the logistics of serving lunch while maintaining six feet distancing made that impossible. In other words, David’s team made clear that they were going to follow the advice of their medical advisory board and put safety first—even if there would be vocal public disagreement with their plan as a result.
In order for us to best represent our members, after that Friday meeting, we quickly put together the member survey that I shared with you last Sunday night. (To date, 1072 of you have completed this survey, which is just remarkable. If you haven’t done so yet, please take a few minutes to click here and fill out the survey. I will be closing it at 8:00 tonight.)
So as a union, we were poised to work with the district to develop a plan to bring elementary students back in a way that balanced student needs with the health and safety concerns of our members. The survey results—which I will share in more detail next week—made clear that there was substantial member support for doing this if the right balance could be struck. And, we hoped, the process itself could help restore some of the trust that has been lost in the course of this year.
We still believe the collaborative process we have started with the district will help us see our way through, but the pathway forward is now much more precarious. Commissioner Riley and Governor Baker have determined that the best way to accomplish their ends is to, once again, bulldoze through anyone who disagrees with them. The difference, this time, unlike in the fall return, is that it isn’t just local unions that are feeling bulldozed. I think a lot of superintendents and School Committee members are feeling bulldozed too.
Surveillance Testing Update
Just a reminder that you received two update from Carolyn Campos on the timeline and process for participating in the new surveillance testing program. You will need to first fill out a new consent form to participate. Then, NPS will upload data to JCM analytics. By this Sunday evening, if you already filled out the consent form, you should then be able to access the JCM testing site on your smartphone to register. JCM then provides you with a scan code, which you use when you pick up and drop off your testing kit.
Please note: Unlike other testing venders, once you are tested, JCM does NOT provide you with website to access to find out if you are positive or negative. If you hear nothing, you are negative; you only hear back from someone if you are positive. No news is good news.
In order to encourage the highest possible participation rate, the Safer Teachers, Safer Students Testing Collaborative posted this very straightforward description of the testing process for the community. Feel free to share this link with your students, their parents.
From Carolyn’s update:
The timeline for moving the current provider, CIC Health, to JCM Analytics, begins the week of March 1st. All staff will continue to have access to testing, but the transition from Education Center to building based testing will be phased in, as indicated in the timeline below.
Week of March 1: Testing for all high school and post-secondary staff in their respective buildings - PK-8 staff will continue testing at the Education Center.
Week of March 8: Testing begins for high school students in their buildings.
Week of March 22: Testing begins for pre-K and elementary staff and students at their buildings. Elementary staff will no longer test at the Ed. Center. Middle school staff will continue testing at the Ed. Center.
Week of April 12: Testing begins for middle school staff and students at their buildings - (middle school staff will no longer test at the Ed. Center).
Even if your testing location continues to be at the Education Center for the next few weeks, you must complete the new consent form because testing will now be executed by the new vendor, JCM Analytics.
How to find a mask that filters well, fits well, and is comfortable
A lot of public health experts are telling us that we need to be more vigilant in our masking—but it’s hard to find pragmatic recommendations about how to do that and what to purchase. This document, “Getting the most from your mask: where to buy and how to wear masks that can block >90% of respiratory particles,” by Jill Crittenden, PhD, a Cambridge scientist at MIT, was shared on the “Changing the Conversation: Parents, Educators, and Students in Support of NPS” Facebook page; it has exactly the kind of practical recommendations I have been looking for. (Crittenden was on the advisory panel for reopening the Cambridge Public Schools.)
If you really want to geek out on masks, I suggest looking at the YouTube videos created by Aaron Collins, starting here, which Dr. Crittenden links to in her document as well.
NTA General Membership Meeting
The School Committee was not able to put the tentative agreement on the agenda for this week. They anticipate it will be introduced next week, and then voted on at the March 22nd meeting. So please hold Thursday, March 25, at 4:00 as a date for an NTA GMM.
MTA General Membership Meeting- Tuesday March 2 @ 5 pm
MTA is calling an emergency meeting of all members on March 2nd, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., to explain the actions by Baker and Riley to force schools to reopen in April, whether they are safe or not, and how we are organize to fight back — against this top-down anti-union move, and for vaccines and safe schools for all educators and students. The meeting will begin with everyone together, providing you with updates answer to key questions. Then members will break out into regional meetings so that they can discuss together what actions they need to take. MTA Leadership will share updates and plans for MTA’s statewide member campaign and initiatives, and how MTA resources can help your district and region. Sign up here
Vaccinate Now, Locally!
NTA strongly believes that teachers need to be vaccinated as soon and as quickly as possible, particularly in the face of the statewide mandate for a full reopening of elementary schools by early April.
Click here to support the MTA plan to use local resources to vaccinate teachers in Phase 2.
We are also asking that you contact state officials and let them know-loud and clear-that the decision to remove municipalities from vaccination is dangerous to public health, a colossal roadblock in getting educators vaccinated, a threat to our most vulnerable population, and detrimental to a full and equitable recovery from the pandemic. If the governor wants to expand in-person learning this school year, as he continually states, then he needs to stop making it hard for educators to get vaccinated!
Contact Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito via their constituent services contact form located at https://www.mass.gov/forms/email-the-governors-office or email their chief of staff directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Marylou Sudders, Secretary of Health and Human Services via Amanda.R.Sachs@mass.gov (Ms. Sachs is the executive assistant to the secretary) or try the direct email at email@example.com (cabinet officials do not usually respond or receive bulk emails)
You can also call the Governor's constituent services line at (617) 725-4005.
MTA New Member Workshops
Professional Teacher Status and pre-PTS rights:
This training will show you the ins and outs of how to get professional teacher status and what your rights are before you get it. Trainer: Ashley Adams
Register by clicking below on the date and time you choose.
Loan Forgiveness and Credit Counseling:
Learn about managing your debt and qualifying for complete forgiveness of your college loans.
Trainer: Todd Friedhaber
Register by clicking below on the session you choose.
MTA Licensure Workshops
You are invited to the 2021 MTA Licensure Workshops! Register today!
Want to learn more about the licensure process? Join MTA Education Policy Specialist Beth Tripathi for presentations on licensure for a variety of career stages. Please read the descriptions carefully to determine which presentation is right for your licensure needs.
3/11/21, 4:00PM - 5:30PM, Educator Licensure: Professional & Renewal
4/6/21, 6:00PM - 7:30PM Educator Licensure: Professional & Renewal
4/21/21, 4:00PM - 5:30PM, Vocational Technical Educator Licensure
5/3/21, 6:00PM - 7:30PM Educator Licensure: Basics for Provisional and Initial Licensure
Early Career Educators, to register for a March 2nd workshop just for you, click here.
MTA's Education Support Professionals March Workshop Series
Available for all Unit C and Unit D members:
Understanding and Implementing the IEP – March 4, 4:00 - 5:30
Legal Rights of ESPs – March 9, 3:30 - 5:00
What ESPs Need to Know about Your Retirement – March 18, 3:30 - 5:00
Unions, Families, and Work: A Balancing Act – March 23, 3:30 - 5:00
Licensure Basics for ESPs – March 25, 4:00 - 5:30
MTA Open Enrollment for Disability Insurance Begins March 29
NTA strongly encourages members to participate in the MTA group UNUM long-term disability plan. We do not advise that you purchase short term disability insurance, as our contract provides the protections you will need if you are disabled for the period short term disability insurance would cover.
Click on the image above to learn more.
"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."
Please take care and stay well.