By Amanda Achin & Stephen Mahood
Boston Passes 4 Percent COVID-19 Threshold
The school year in Boston has just begun, and the city is already violating the contract they agreed to with Boston Public School educators. This Tuesday, the city reported that the rate of positive COVID-19 tests citywide surpassed the 4% line that educators had successfully fought to have as a binding trigger for total remote learning.
BPS staff and teachers have been given window fans that do not fit to circulate the air in classrooms. Parents, students and teachers do not feel enough has been done in the six months prior to the new school year.
Educators on the ground like Ann Finkel, a 7th grade East Boston teacher believe that the city is creating more crisis with their decisions.
“The union has been pushing for months for the district to find a solution for when COVID rates spiked again, as we knew they would. Forcing students and teachers to go back to buildings where our lives are literally at risk is not a solution. Forcing teachers, students, and families to adjust to new plans daily is not a solution. The district has created an education crisis on top of this health crisis. It didn’t have to be this way.”
The mayor failed to think or execute an update to the buildings in a meaningful way to put the health of our community first. And educators are the ones who have to deal with the results; there have already been COVID-19 positive tests from among the limited number of teachers and staff required to show up so far, even before Boston passed the 4 percent threshold.
The violation of this contract is just another expression of the top-down approach to decision-making when it comes to Boston schools. Boston is one of only nine cities in the country where the school district is tightly controlled by the mayor. Our mayor has so much power that he appoints members to the school committee, unlike every other community in Massachusetts where school committee members are elected.
Politicians and Educators Clash Over Dangerous Reopening Plans
Boston educators have been on the frontlines of fighting for a safe city since the pandemic began. They have spent months negotiating a contract with the city about when and how to safely restart schools this Fall. During that time, educators, Boston Public Schools (BPS) families, and community allies showed up to action after action organized by the Boston Teachers Union to support their demands for safe schools.
While Marty Walsh is leading the drive to reopen Boston schools before it is safe, his effort to expedite in-person learning is part of a coordinated push from every level of government including President Trump, Governor Baker, and Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley. The one thing that ties them all together is they care more about reopening the economy than the health and safety of our communities.
Just weeks ago, Commissioner Riley sent threatening letters targeting school committee members in districts that have started remotely. The letters requested districts to submit their reopening plans within ten days and threatened audits for all 16 districts for carrying out remote learning. Press conference after press conference, Governor Baker has spoken out encouraging in-person learning in our schools across the state.
In defiance of unsafe re-opening, Andover educators refused to enter their buildings for professional development and instead worked remotely collectively outside their buildings in a safe socially distant environment. In response, the Massachusetts Board of Labor Relations, a body of the state, came down hard claiming these educators had participated in illegal strike activity.
Massachusetts educators and families have worked tirelessly over the summer to organize for a safe school year and while those at the top claim that they are merely looking out for the interests of our most marginalized students, educators have highlighted the hypocrisy in their words.
BPS educator Lauren Nickell responded to the city’s failure to protect educators and students, “If the city were sincerely invested in reopening schools and ensuring our high-need students receive services, then they would be taking every measure to actually reduce the infection rate, which is the obvious prerequisite for a safe reopening of the school system.”
While the district loves to highlight its supposed anti-racist values, Black and Brown communities in Boston with higher rates were already carrying out in-person learning giving them a higher rate of exposure. As of last Friday, the COVID-19 rate in East Boston is 8.8%.
The Fight For Safe Schools Continues
As the attacks have intensified, educators and families continue to respond with resistance. Boston Public School educators have been leading the fight for safe schools and have been building incredible power through conversations with families, collective action in the streets, mobilizing to school committee meetings and by hosting their own public community meetings which have drawn out hundreds.
While those in power are calling all the shots now, it doesn’t have to be that way. With greater unity, organization, and collective action, educators, parents and students have the power to take back control of our schools and implement a truly safe plan that protects our educators, staff, and families.
Editors’ note: As this article is being published, educators are organizing to make sure the City keeps its word. You can support them by calling Mayor Marty Walsh and BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius to let them know that you support BPS educators and families and demand they keep their word and stick to the contract they signed.
Take Action Now!
-Call Mayor Marty Walsh: (617) 635-3151
-Call Superintendent Brenda Cassellius: (617) 635-9000
-Call 311: 617-635-4500
I’m furious that the mayor, city council and school committee are violating their contract with the BTU and are putting students, families, and the city in danger.
Photo Credit: Boston Teachers Union and The Boston Herald