By Amanda Achin
On Wednesday, October 21, the Boston Teachers Union won an enormous victory after a week of organizing against Mayor Marty Walsh’s push to keep educators and students in unsafe buildings for school. It was just a week ago that BTU sued the city of Boston after the city refused to recognize language in their contract that mandated remote learning for all once Boston hit the 4% COVID-19 rate. When BTU lost their fight in court, they quickly turned to collective organizing among their members to push back and organized a week of action.
“Now our fight is to make sure we have a sustainable plan to get our highest needs students in-person services in safe spaces.”Chelsea, BPS educator.
Chelsea, a BPS educator, was one of the many BTU members leading the organizing on the ground. “The moment the district announced it would not be honoring our MOA (going remote when rates surpassed 4%) we began to mobilize and plan a week of action with our members. It started with a social media campaign and was supposed to culminate in educators occupying the Bolling (one of the newest buildings in the district), however, this morning BPS announced it was going remote. A huge win! It’s a powerful reminder that collective action works, even just the threat of one. Now our fight is to make sure we have a sustainable plan to get our highest needs students in-person services in safe spaces.”
Turning to collective action
The first day of BTU’s week of action started with a call for a photo campaign. Over 500 members participated by taking a selfie with a sign that talked about what safe schools meant to them and why they were taking a stand giving voice to the everyday realities of working in schools without PPE, ventilation in their buildings or the proper cleaning supplies.
Many of the signs highlighted the deep inequity and racism within the city of Boston. One sign read, “Safety means an end to years of racist neglect and cutbacks of our schools”. Another post read, “We KNOW what it takes to create safe(r) schools, it’s not a mystery – look at what rich, white private schools are doing. My students deserve the same level of safety and anything less is unacceptable and racist.”
The week of action also included a petition that collected over 7,000 signatures along with education workers and community members flooding Marty Walsh’s office with phone calls demanding the city stick to the deal they agreed too. As BTU members and BPS parents were gearing up for an occupation of BPS Headquarters Wednesday morning, they received the news that Marty Walsh had given into one of their main demands – remote learning until COVID-19 rates decrease.
Winning their immediate demand, the BTU decided to postpone their rally and held a press conference at the BTU Hall. It’s not surprising that Marty Walsh decided to make the announcement the morning of a planned occupation of a city building by educators and families. Those at the top are terrified of educators, students, and parents uniting against them.
Victory won but demand for a safe plan remains
Students, educators, and parents were all represented at Wednesday’s press conference where local media gathered. The message was clear, remote learning is the safest option right now given the rise in COVID-19 rates but the stakes are very high and the city must listen to educators and families in order to develop a strong and safe plan for our communities immediately. BTU President Jessica Tang emphasized the need for a better plan. “For months, we have been advocating for a safer, better plan and that goal has still not yet been achieved. There are no winners here today in this pandemic.”
Ann Finkel, a BTU educator and DSA member, spoke at the press conference about the urgent need for the district to listen to educators and families. “Under the current hybrid hopscotch plan, when schools reopen, the district will again be forcing families to make an impossible choice between keeping students at home which can mean missing paychecks and putting parents’ jobs at risk or sending students into unsafe buildings and risking the lives of their children, themselves and everyone else in their household. For students who come from low-income households and single-parent homes, the choice between going to school and work and staying home is especially agonizing, especially now that the eviction moratorium is over. None of the options being offered to parents and teachers right now offer an actual solution.”
According to a recent report by City Life/Vida Urbana, over 300,000 renter households are at risk of eviction across the state. While 50% of Black renters (1 in 2) in the Boston metropolitan area said they had little to no confidence that they could pay August rent. Baker’s recent lift of the eviction moratorium is just another attack on working families, making education even harder to access for our most oppressed communities.
“The people of Boston deserve a real safe plan for students to get the education they deserve.”Mariella Murillo, BPS student.
BPS student Mariella Murillo spoke out about just how high the stakes are as we continue to deal with the pandemic. “We need to stop pretending. Stop pretending the schools are safe when they are not, like there is equity when there is not. The people of Boston deserve a real safe plan for students to get the education they deserve. My little cousins need a plan. We need to stop treating our students, and our teachers, and our families like their lives are a joke. Nobody is laughing. Millions of peoples’ lives are at risk and you don’t even know what it’s like until it is you. 222 days. 220,00 deaths. Stop pretending.”
The Boston educators and students are right, there are no actual solutions on offer from the top. The only sensible solutions on offer are from educators and families. We need relief for working parents, we need free high-speed internet for all, we need housing support for families, we need new school buildings so that when COVID-19 rates do decline, we have public infrastructure that helps us keep it that way. That is exactly why educators and families should be making major decisions when it comes to education, not politicians and administrators. But that will only happen through the collective organizing and action led by students, educators, parents, and community members.