In this issue: Vaccination mandate Mask Mandate (and more mask information) Ventilation Surveillance Testing 2021-2022 Memorandum of Agreement NTA 2020-2021 Friend of Education Award
Welcome back: We start this new school year with the hope that this year we will turn to corner on this terrible pandemic. Yet here we are again, worried about health and safety.
First of all, I would like to share with you that I believe the SC is making every reasonable effort to ensure the health and safety of students and staff for this upcoming year. Here is what is happening.
You may be aware that two key leaders of the ACLU have expressed their view that a vaccine mandate is NOT a violation of individual rights. On the contrary, a mandate actually protects individual liberty. I don’t think you need to be convinced of this—but it is reassuring to know that one of our most important watchdogs of individual liberty is with us on this.
In NTA leadership, we have actively advocated and negotiated for a staff vaccination mandate, and have reached an agreement with the School Committee that all NTA staff members must be vaccinated to work in the Newton Public Schools—with exemptions only for medical or religious reasons--making vaccination a condition of employment for NTA members.
The deadline for being fully vaccinated is October 15. Proof of vaccination will be required—although this information will not go into members personnel folders, but rather will be kept separate, and then will be destroyed at the end of the year. No one outside of HR will be privy to this information.
Members have asked me if this mandate applies to all school personnel. It only applies to members of the NTA—the Secretaries and Custodians’ Association are in negotiations with the School Committee to decide whether they too will agree to a vaccination mandate. We encourage them to do so, for the safety of us all. Exempt staff (central administrators, principals, etc.) will also be required to be vaccinated.
I hope vaccination will also become mandatory for all students who are eligible. The logistics of making that happen are much more complex—it probably needs to happen at the state level. That said, we all know vaccinations are our most important bulwark against this terrible disease. For schools to fully return to normal, everyone who can must be vaccinated.
Mask Mandate (and More Mask Information)
As you already know, Newton has a mask mandate in place. The Board of Elementary and Secondary and Elementary Education has also issued a statewide mask mandate.
In my last email update, I shared with you some information on how to find a better fitting, high filtration mask. You can find that update, including the mask information, here.
I also recommend that you take a look at this short (less than 20 minutes) YouTube video by Aaron Collins. In it, Aaron speaks to parents who are sending their children back to school and want practical guidance on finding, purchasing and wearing high quality masks. So if you too are concerned that your children be as safe as possible as they return to school, this video is for you. But the video is for all of us—it really does a great job of explaining what you need to look for in a mask, and where to find what you need. And those children’s masks are just too cute!
The district is following exactly the right protocols for maintaining the air quality in buildings. They will, as I urged in the last update, do testing and balancing in a sample of rooms regularly, focussing on those rooms that were marginal last year, and continue to repair/replace older equipment, in addition to purchasing large numbers of air purifiers, fans, and repairing windows in order to introduce as much fresh into learning spaces as possible.
Another encouraging development is that the district is currently installing carbon dioxide detectors in every room that are connected to a central server. By doing this, the facilities department will be able to monitor air quality in every room across the district IN REAL TIME.
This summer I have seen the district commit itself to addressing ventilation as a key element of a mitigation strategy for COVID-19—especially the Delta variant.
The district will offer weekly pooled surveillance testing administered by CIC Health from Cambridge, under contract through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. CIC will provide nurses and other medical assistants to come into buildings and take swabs from students and staff. They will take two swabs—one for the pool, and a second to test individuals if the pool is positive. Very efficient and fast.
CIC staff will need our support—they are good at what they do, but they are probably not that knowledgeable about schools. There will be some disruption of teaching and learning, but I believe the district is doing all it can to coordinate with CIC to implement the program as quickly and efficiently as possible.
We wish this were mandatory and not an opt in program. But having everything happen in school will increase participation rates. We (NTA members) must do all we can to support the effort. And certainly all of us should sign up for the weekly testing!
2021-2022 Memorandum of Agreement
The NTA and the School Committee reached agreement on a Memorandum of Agreement on Thursday, September 2. Chris Walsh and I presented that agreement to the Executive Committee that same afternoon. Unlike last year’s agreements, which introduced whole new paradigms of teaching and learning, this agreement is far less extensive in scope.
In addition to agreeing to a vaccination mandate, a mask mandate, and to supporting a voluntary surveillance testing program, the agreement has a clause on staff meetings that allows some meetings to continue to be held virtually. It also continues an agreement, reached last year, to pay middle and high school educators $49.54 per hour for any duties they perform beyond those specified in the applicable Time and Learning Agreements.
The Executive Committee voted unanimously to ratify this agreement on its own authority, judging that based both on scope and substance we did not need to hold a general election for ratification. The School Committee will vote on the agreement next Thursday; they are expected to agree unanimously.
NTA 2020-2021 Friend of Education Award
In the last (of many) General Membership Meetings last year, I shared the following statement about the NTA 202-2021 Friend of Education:
Each year the Newton Teachers Association chooses an individual to receive its “Friend of Education Award” in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the profession of education in Newton and in the larger community. Previous recipients have included Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Ted Kennedy. This year’s award winner is Aaron Sorrell.
Aaron Sorrell is a parent of children enrolled in the Newton Early Childhood Program and Zervas Elementary School. He is also a mechanical engineer whose responsibilities this year included overseeing the heating and ventilation preparations for COVID in all of the federal buildings in New England.
Ashley Raven, a building rep at NECP and member of our Executive Committee, brought Aaron to our attention last summer. Aaron had been helping her advocate for better and safer air quality in her classroom; soon, he was helping the NTA advocate for better and safer air quality across the district. If I recall correctly, I believe Ashley said something like “I think Aaron might be able to help you out”-- the understatement of the year.
Aaron was a great teacher. He taught Chris and me exactly what we needed to know to hold the district accountable for making the air in Newton’s buildings safer. Each time we had questions—or, as often the case might be—doubts about the district’s claims, Aaron made himself available and carefully explained what we needed to know, and what we needed to do, to advocate for safer schools.
This past year, when we all felt vulnerable, frightened for our safety, and unwilling to trust the district to protect us, Aaron stepped up, and on top of the enormous challenges he must have faced in his own job, he was there for us whenever we needed him.
Thank you, Aaron, for the support you have given to the students, families, and educators of Newton. Our schools have become much safer because of you.
Mike Zilles, President
Newton Teachers Association