Last week over 100 Boston Teachers Union (BTU) members, including nurses and educators, joined a sit-in protest at City Hall Plaza rejecting Superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius’s draft reopening plan she recently submitted to the Boston School Committee.
The BTU members were calling on Cassellius, Mayor Martin Walsh and city leaders to safely and equitably reopen schools for in-person instruction with verifiable assurance that proper COVID-19 safeguards and facilities upgrades are in place. The nurses are also demanding “a seat at the table” to give meaningful feedback and input into reopening plans and decisions.
“No students or staff should be asked to risk their lives or their loved ones by going back in person – not even under a hybrid plan – until all possible health and safety precautions are addressed and verified,” said BTU President Jessica Tang. “The District should work with educators, especially our school nurses, to plan and prepare for a reopening that is safe, equitable and healthy for everyone.”
According to the BTU the draft reopening plans provided by BPS does not meet the standards necessary to ensure the safety of Boston school facilities, adequate staffing and supplies, and comprehensive guidance for families and school personnel regarding COVID-19. Reopening plans must be guided by health and safety considerations and led by health care experts.
“Overall, the district must be transparent in all aspects of assessing and planning for safety in the schools,” said Jonathan Haines, BTU member and nurse. “How can families decide whether or not to send their children to school, if they don’t even know how it’s being cleaned?”
More than 100 Boston Teachers Union nurses are responsible for the health and safety of all 55,000 BPS students. These health care professionals were left out of the reopening plan’s creation process, and are fighting for safer physical conditions in schools.
“We want to see our students, but we want to do it with proper safety procedures in place,” said Marta Bausemer, BTU member and nurse. “That means rapid testing, a solid plan for when infections inevitably happen, and training for all educators to slow the spread, among others.”
In response, Walsh said this week that keeping kids safe continues to be the number one priority as the City looks at starting the new school year. He said Boston is taking all of their needs into account and exploring every option.
“It’s not a decision that can be rushed, because the City doesn’t know what the data will say a month from now, or even next week,” said Walsh.
The Mayor said the City and BPS are planning for every scenario, so that all students can learn in a safe environment this school year. He said that the school year would not start with all in-person learning because it’s not safe.
“Right now, the City is focused on all remote learning, and a hybrid model for the start of the year,” said Walsh. “When kids walk through the doors of Boston’s school buildings, it will be when the public health experts say it’s safe.”
He said that parents could choose to keep their kids fully remote, no matter what happens.
“But it’s important to remember: many families don’t really have that choice because the parents must go to work, and someone must care for their children,” said Walsh. “For many students, the learning gap grows with every day they’re away from their teachers and classrooms. Some families have the resources to make at-home learning work, and some don’t. That’s why it’s important to explore every possible way to safely bring kids back to school, especially for students of color who already face challenges. It’s about equity.”
For their part, the BTU Nurses have identified five demands in order for students to return to school safely. They are as follows:
• Policies consistent with Safe Nursing Practice must be reviewed and approved by our nurses.
• Rapid testing must be in place for quick identification of COVID-19 in our school communities.
• Sufficient PPE supplies, including fitted N95 masks for nurses and appropriate protective gear for all educators who need them must be obtained and supplied in adequate quantities by the district.
• There should be adequate ventilation in all areas; cleaning and sanitizing policies must be strictly enforced; there must be isolation rooms and safe waiting areas near health offices, working sinks in all health offices, soap and paper towels in all bathrooms, working windows, and safe drinking water. Air quality and ventilation assessments must be done and the results must be made public.
• Increase the number of substitute nurses and teachers, hire more psychologists, social workers, custodians, and other staff in order to support all students and to implement all safety protocols.
Cassellius has held 24 public meetings so far, with more to go to discuss and get feedback from parents, staff and students on reopening.
“BPS has been planning for months, gathering data through student, staff and family surveys, as well as evaluating the spring remote learning program,” she said. “All of that input has informed the BPS draft plans. They are addressing facility concerns such as bathrooms, water temperature, fixing windows, and ordering HVAC filters.”
She said BPS would continue to monitor the data and science from medical and public health professionals, following CDC guidance as well as guidelines from state officials.
“Safety is the top priority for students, families, and all teachers and staff,” said Cassellius.
She added that she understands the concerns families have about sending their children back to school and heard from them firsthand and understands on a personal level, as a mother of three.
“But one thing is clear to me — that we cannot throw our hands up in the air,” she said. “We are all reinventing education. And we have to. Because our children don’t get a rewind. There is no do-over. And we don’t know how long this will continue. Our children need us to rally.”