June Consultation Update
In our June meetings with district leaders we discussed Fall reopening plans, safety concerns, the new instructional calendar, and what collaboration means under such difficult and dangerous circumstances. We’re committed to collaboration with SAISD leadership. But we’re also committed to protecting and serving those who we represent. Decisions we make about fall reopening are likely to be the most important decisions we make in our educational careers. It’s no overstatement to say that the situation we face this Fall is unprecedented in its seriousness. We’ve never faced a collective challenge on this scale in modern American history. The threat to human life is very real, and more dangerous than anything we’ve encountered before. Under these conditions we cannot, and will not be silent partners in reopening plans that do not put human life and safety first. We will fight for the safety of students, educators, and families in our district, and our message to district leaders is clear and unambiguous: work with us, in good faith, because we’ve only got one chance to get it right.
The Fight for Classified Workers
We raised major concerns we’re hearing from custodians, and received district commitments to providing new PPE for custodial staff, and ensuring that they have the cleaning materials that they need to do their work. We’re still pushing for hazard pay for all essential workers who have been working on campuses during this pandemic, and we won’t stop until all of them are fairly compensated for the essential and dangerous work that they’ve been doing to keep our communities fed, served, maintained, and prepared for the new semester. Our message to support workers is loud and unambiguous - no one is expendable, and thanks should be offered in material terms - in hazard pay, PPE and benefits - not merely through platitudes and “appreciation”. We’ve heard that SAISD leaders are seeking to be conservative in anticipation of funding cuts resulting from this pandemic. But we’ve seen our leaders reach into emergency funds before - conjuring millions of dollars out of thin air to pay for air conditioning last school year. Fairly compensating our essential workers should be a priority during this time, and emergency funds exist for exactly this purpose - if this isn’t an emergency, we don’t know what is.
Concerns from Athletics Departments and High Risk Educators
We raised the concerns we’re hearing from strength and conditioning camp coaches and athletic coordinators, and were told that staff should speak directly with their principals and with Employee Benefits who will investigate issues thoroughly. District leaders committed that they will shut down Summer activities if necessary, but will do so only following a process of case-by-case review. If you have concerns about face-to-face activities taking place this Summer, reach out to your principal or supervisor, to employee benefits, and to us. Let’s work together to keep everyone in our communities safe. It’s time to speak up, folks, and if you fear retaliation, understand that you have a responsibility to act in defense of human life that overrides all other professional responsibilities. Now’s the time. We brought the concerns of immunocompromised educators, and those at high risk of serious complications should they be exposed to the novel coronavirus. We advocated for maximum flexibility in Fall reopening, and for online-only teaching as a possibility for the most at-risk educators. District leaders committed to investigating possible flexible options, and to continuing to work with us through July to prioritize the safety of our most vulnerable community members, and center their safety in all reopening plans. We’ll keep you posted on our progress. We’ve also requested access to samples of the PPE that district leaders will be distributing for all staff in the Fall. We want to share these samples with our members, and with the health experts we’re working with to evaluate their efficacy for ourselves.
2020-21 Calendar Adoption
Finally, we discussed the calendar and schedule changes for the new school year. Educators across our district opted overwhelmingly for an intersession calendar in the district survey. The new calendar extends breaks in November, January, and March reducing the amount of time schools are scheduled to be open over the winter months when COVID-19 is most likely to peak, allowing our schools to close without losing enormous amounts of instructional time. To accommodate these extended breaks, the school year will be extended into June. We’re supportive of this calendar - it fits the needs of the moment, and the unprecedented dangers we’re facing. But our support is based on the condition that this calendar is only in place for the coming school year, and that any move towards a permanent intersession calendar would require plans to go back to educators, students, families, and the school board in the future. We received assurances that this calendar change will only be for the next school year, and that any change to a traditional calendar would have to go through an inclusive democratic process. We understand that the new calendar will present many headaches for staff across our district. We’re collaborating with district leaders to ensure that childcare options will be available at all campuses this Fall, and that these services will be available for everyone who works in our schools.
We Must Stand Together
We’re entering the most important, and dangerous weeks of our lives as educators. You have the commitment of the Executive Council that we will do everything in our power to safeguard the lives of our members, SAISD educators, our students, and the families and communities we serve. But our union is all of us. And, no matter how much we work this Summer, we can’t do this for you. In order to protect our school communities this Fall, we’re going to have to stand together. Our power is in our capacity for collective action, and there’s never been a more important moment for us to act. We’ve only got one chance to safely reopen our schools, and it’s going to take all of us to make sure that we do.