Once again, we are heading into an unprecedented school year. Despite our hopes and expectations that the worst of the COVID pandemic would be behind us by now, the Delta variant has upended everything in a matter of weeks.
There is nothing we want more than a safe return to in-person instruction—we have been looking forward to it for almost a year and a half. But for the students we teach, their families, and all of our fellow PAT members, we have to get it right.
Of course, many of the problems we are currently facing would be much easier to solve if we weren’t living with decades of disinvestment in our schools. For years, we have been advocating for smaller class sizes, safe school buildings, and social-emotional support for our students. We need these basic supports now more than ever.
Over the last month, the impact of the Delta variant has become undeniable. During this time, your PAT officers, bargaining team members, and staff have been working hard to ensure that we have strong safety agreements in place before the start of school.
Here are some of the steps we have taken to maintain and to build on the agreements we made last spring:
- On August 6, we notified PPS that if we do not update our standing agreement, our Spring 2021 Safety Letter of Agreement (LOA) will remain in effect.
- Over the last two weeks, we surveyed all our members to identify the protections that are most important to PAT members, as well as gauge support for other safety measures that are recommended by the CDC or ODE. (More below on the PAT Survey results)
- We organized listening sessions with PAT members and PPS School Board directors so our elected leaders could hear firsthand what it will take to make this fall safe and successful.
- Based on member survey data, we have been in discussions with PPS about updating our existing LOA to preserve the safety measures we fought so hard for last year, as well as to incorporate new guidance and recommendations from the ODE and CDC.
One important update is the standard for social distancing. Last spring, we agreed that we would have 6 feet of physical distance per person in each PPS classroom. That standard is no longer supported by the CDC or state guidelines, both of which recommend 3 feet of physical distance where possible.
Our PAT team has been clear that, in addition to maintaining previously agreed-upon safety standards such as universal mask wearing, testing and tracing, and adequate ventilation, our updated agreement must include the following:
- Assurance of a minimum of 3 feet per person, rather than the looser standard of 3 feet “whenever possible”.
- That PPS open an online learning option to all students who want it.
- That virtual positions go to educators who need a medical accommodation to teach virtually.
By agreeing to those three conditions, as well as maintaining other safety standards from the spring, PPS would take a giant step toward ensuring safety and stability for students and staff in each building.
Our hope is to come to a written agreement about these updates BEFORE students start school, and we will let you know as soon as we reach a deal with the District. At that point we will immediately implement a plan to explain the changes, answer questions, and support members and reps to enforce it.
However, as of this evening, we do not have that written agreement. I will be addressing the school board tonight to publicly present PAT’s priorities for starting this year off right. (The school board meeting will begin at 6:00pm tonight- click here to watch.)
In order to secure a written agreement this week, our next steps may include taking legal action, which is likely to be a lengthy process, and organizing this week with fellow educators, parents, and community members to put pressure on the District, while we continue our talks.
We know that there are MANY unanswered questions about how our schools will meet all of the recommended safety measures, including physical distancing, given the size of classroom spaces and the state of our buildings. However, we cannot continue to treat teachers as the shock absorbers for a school system struggling to address a pandemic. That is not fair to our students, our communities, or to the educators who’ve been through so much during this pandemic.
What is certain is that every safety measure we put in place now will help prevent disruptions all year long. We get one chance to reopen schools this year, and we have to do everything in our power to get it right. District leaders must have the courage to join together with teachers and families and do whatever it takes to ensure safety, stability, and equity for all students in this new school year. And we owe it to our communities to do everything we can on the front end to keep students safe before welcoming them back into our schools.