NTA EBulletin November 15, 2020

Dear Colleagues: On November 11th, the Globe reported that Wellesley High School would transition all classes to remote learning until December 1st after the district discovered a number of clearly linked cases of COVID-19. What alerted Wellesley to the problem in the first place? Surveillance testing. This then allowed for the contact tracing that showed these cases to be related. Wellesley nipped spread within the school in the bud.  Over the last two weeks, the Newton Public Schools has begun rolling out its plans for phasing in hybrid model in middle school, with students arriving on Monday. Late Friday afternoon, David Fleishman emailed the high school staff informing them of a proposed schedule for introducing a hybrid high school plan, with educators who are currently teaching remotely required, beginning on November 30th, to work one day each week from the buildings, and, beginning January 4th, to work their full five day work week from the buildings. On January 27, the proposal is that the district will begin a hybrid model in the high schools. On the one hand, I certainly understand the desire, and even the need, to teach students in person. While I know that the elementary hybrid model has been incredibly difficult for educators there, by most reports the saving grace has been working in person with students, and experiencing how very much they appreciate being in school with their peers and teachers. I am hearing that there is at least some growing ability to live with this as the "new normal" for many--although the whole situation becomes nail biting each time a new case emerges in the one of the buildings. Will the plans the district has laid be sufficient to protect educators and students across the district? Will we be prepared to stop a potential outbreak as Wellesley was?  We better be.  At the peak of last spring's wave of COVID-19 cases in late April, there was a seven day average of 35.9 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents per day in Massachusetts; today, the seven day average is 34.3 new cases per 100,000 residents per day. Last spring, from that point in April, the seven day running average number of new cases per day dropped precipitously for about a month and half, and then held steady for much of summer. By all accounts, we have not come anywhere near the peak of this new wave. We are headed up, across this state, the nation, and much of Europe. Newton, while protected by its affluence so far, is seeing its cases rise too.  We better be, but it is not likely. There is no leadership--we all know this, but it bears saying--at the federal level. Our current lame duck President and his party ignore the crisis, intent on creating, instead, a crisis of political legitimacy. The leadership at the state level is Kafkaesque. Even as the total number of daily new cases is now surpassing 3,000, Governor Charlie Baker recently speculated that perhaps closing schools last spring was a mistake. His administration just rolled out new metrics for determining the color-coded level of risk for Massachusetts communities, so that now, even as our situation statewide becomes far more critical, far fewer communities are classified as in crisis. And Baker has stated unequivocally that all schools should be providing full in person schooling to all students, EXCEPT under extreme conditions, and even then they should provide in person instruction through a hybrid model. He buttresses these demands with the ever louder mantra that has now become ubiquitous: Schools are safe. Schools are not loci for the spread of SARs-CoV-2. I spent a good part of my time last week trying to find the evidence for that claim. I won't go into the details, but what I have found is this. It is true that there is not much evidence that schools are the loci for spread. But why is that true? Because there simply isn't much evidence about what is happening with the spread of SARs-CoV-2 in schools, period. The data, and the evidence, is far too thin to support the conclusion that schools are safe. I have to say that I am at a loss. Last spring, public health experts were all saying the same thing: test, and trace, and quarantine. Nations that have taken this mantra seriously, can, unequivocally, say schools are safe. South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand. The U.S has not. Right now, we have no national leadership. It is becoming increasingly clear that our state leadership is failing. We are on our own. It isn't clear where we will be in a week, two weeks, three weeks, whether the district will determine that the level of community spread just does not support the continued opening of the schools to in person learning.  But as the case of Wellesley with which I began makes clear, it is possible to make schools safer.  Neither our high school nor our middle school negotiations are complete. The NTA will continue to put front and center the safety of staff and students. We cannot assume schools are safe; they will only be safe if we are determined to take all due measure to make them safe.  Dues Chris Walsh sent members the below notification last Friday:  Payroll deductions for NTA/MTA/NEA membership dues will begin with the November 15th salary check and continue through May 31.  Please examine your check stub to determine whether the amount deducted, if any, is correct. If you have paid your dues in cash, no deduction should appear.  If you are paying your dues through payroll deductions, your stub should have a deduction item "NTA".  You can find the amount of your bimonthly deductions depending on your membership classification here. Please call the NTA office (617-244-9562) between 8:30 and 4:00 p.m. on school days or email Cindy Colantonio (colantonioc@newton.k12.ma.us) if you have any questions. Dates and Deadlines The open enrollment period for Flexible Spending Accounts for 2021 begins tomorrow, November 2, and runs through November 20. The Human Resources Office recently sent out an email. You can also find information about the program on the HR webpage, here*************** "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike   Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association




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