MTI Board of Directors Statement: Jan 10, 2022 Return to In-Person InstructionNews January 7th, 2022
MTI Board of Directors Statement: Jan 10, 2022 Return to In-Person Instruction
January 7, 2022
While the members of Madison Teachers, Inc. look forward to reconnecting with our students in-person on Monday, we still recognize that we’re in a community which is experiencing a 121% increase in positive cases and 34.5% increase in hospitalizations (which are currently at capacity) and that bringing students, staff, and community into spaces ranging from a couple of hundred to thousands people is not a safe way to lower our infection rates.
Roughly 67% of our members surveyed either did not support a return to school buildings on January 10 or would only do so if COVID-19 infection rates were stabilizing or decreasing as a sign of spread declining in our community. But many of us will still return to the buildings because our love for the children, once again, is being pitted against our collective concerns about making the safest and healthiest choice.
We appreciate our many Nurses, Nursing Assistants, custodial, and food service staff who continue to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of every person in our school buildings. They are the reason we’ve been able to maintain safe in-person learning since Spring 2021, and that must be recognized.
Over the past months, MTI has also engaged with MMSD leadership on ways to support staff during such a physically and emotionally draining year. Not only have we started this school year short-staffed, but we are losing an extraordinary number or staff due to burnout and disrespect from leadership and community stakeholders. We anticipate that this announcement of returning to in-person learning, without addressing the four requests we sent to the Board of Education, Superintendent Carlton Jenkins, and MMSD leadership, will only make a difficult situation worse through an avoidance and disengagement strategy.
- We have requested a humane COVID-19 relief strategy that will not penalize staff who are quarantining due to COVID-19 infection or being close contacts. That hasn’t been finalized and a meeting to address this has not been sped up to happen before Jan. 10 as we requested multiple times.
- We requested more specific strategies to intervene when people are not following COVID protocols, which was reported by many members as a leading stressor during in-person learning this year. However, MMSD has just told building leadership and staff that we cannot intervene by separating those who refuse to wear a mask, aside from those exempted due to documented and protected sensory needs, from the majority of students and staff who are masking for the public good. This is a direct violation of the safety policies outlined in MMSD and Dane County protocols by our public health experts – but the district seems more interested in optics than science and safety in this case. We strongly urge the district leadership to reconsider their stance on this matter and co-create plans with building staff for interventions that include humane ways of keeping all students and staff safe during a difficult time through strictly enforcing masking protocols.
- We requested an explicit district instruction for schools to focus on everyone’s mental health needs and reduce unnecessary meetings and required initiatives so staff can grow camaraderie, give space for social-emotional processing of the past year, and provide grace to people who need additional time. Knowing that the staff shortages since September have directly impacted our ability to plan, reflect, and support our scholars because we have been subbing in colleagues’ classrooms and performing additional duties to keep the school functioning, it’s disappointing to see district leadership lay school openings and closings at the feet of staff’s health, as if our illness or following district and community safety protocols is a moral failure as opposed to a failure on our system to adequately plan for such contingencies. As of now, no plan has been communicated and the implicit message is that we are to start Jan. 10 as though we are not in a pandemic or have massive shortages. This is a strategy that will force our community to face the consequences of a “magical thinking” strategy in the days, weeks, and months to come.
- We were also advocating for a public workgroup of educators, administrators, and marginalized community partners (such as parents and students) to co-create contingency plans for future staff shortages or the next wave of COVID variant impacting our community. No such announcement has been made, thus we anticipate experiencing the same cycle of miscommunication, last-minute changes, and systemic privilege to occur again if unaddressed.
Make no mistake – we have always planned and anticipated a return to our school buildings. Working with young people, building communities, and supporting each other is the best part of our jobs. But after weeks of discussions, our community’s current plan that relies on all of us crossing our fingers and hoping no more people get sick so that parents can go back to work and young people have a place to go outside of the house, seems to be a dangerously cosmetic solution to a deeper systemic problem.