Petition to Support Students & Communities During Mass School Closures–Diary of a Teacher During the Coronavirus Crisis, Entry #2

During this period of mass school closures around the country and around the world due to COVID-19, Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian is going to share his experience with educating his kids at home and helping social movements to promote public health. Below is Jesse’s “Diary Entry #2” that contains a petition to help students and communities during this crisis. You can follow these posts at http://www.IAmAnEducator.com


This morning 1.1 million New York City School students woke up to their first COVID-19 day off of school.  Millions more in some 33 states around the country have now had the schoolhouse doors closed to them and nearly 300 million students around the world are out of school to try to stop the spread of this deadly disease.  In fact, public life itself is being shut down with the announcements cities such as from my hometown of Seattle to LA to New York City that restaurants and bars would be closed.  The Center for Disease Control recommended on Sunday that there should no longer be any gatherings of 50 people or more for at least eight weeks.  The infection rate and death toll are mounting around the world.

This was all a lot for me to take in as I checked my twitter feed and read the paper this morning.  I decided it wouldn’t be healthy for me to panic my two kids with all of this information at once.  I did let them know that restaurants would be closed starting today and we would need to cook all our own food.  As we sent the boy’s mom out the door to work and wished her well, we decided that the first homeschool class of the day would be “Nutrition and Food Justice.” 

We started with a discussion about how many kids today were going to have a hard time eating because kids on free and reduced lunch might have to miss school breakfast, and then have to find one of the 25 sites around the Seattle that began serving lunch today. We discussed the absurdity of kids not having enough to eat in the world’s richest country.  My older son said, “Yeah, I bet Amazon could feed every kid in Seattle all their meals and they probably wouldn’t even miss the money because they make so much.”  I told him to find look it up and see if he was right.  My son reported back that Jeff Bezos makes $6.54 billion a month and concluded that he should forgo that income for the next few months while school is canceled to help make sure every kid has enough food.  For the next segment of class, I told my kids they were reasonable for making a healthy breakfast and they did a good job making scrambled eggs and veggie sausage.

My kids are outside now running around in the field for PE.  When they come back in it will be time for social studies and I am going to share with them the petition that was created by the Social Equity Educators in Seattle calling on local politicians to support students, staff, and community members in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and ask them if we should sign it. 

This petition raises many important policy demands including providing youth medical and social emotional supports (including access to nurses, health centers, and social workers), suspending mortgage and rent payments, and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. I recommend reading the full text of the petition, talking about it with your kids, signing it, and passing it on to someone you know.

–Jesse Hagopian

Teacher, Seattle Public Schools/ Editor, Rethinking Schools magazine/ Director, Black Education Matters/Editor, Teaching for Black Lives

—————-

Here, then, is the text of the demands:

Support Students, Respect Educators, and Invest in Our Communities

Sign the Petition: https://tinyurl.com/SEECovid

To Superintendent Denise Juneau, Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Governor Jay Inslee:

We are writing to ask that you do everything in your power to support students, staff, and community members in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. As Seattle educators, we are grateful to know that our school district and state have taken key steps toward stopping the spread of the coronavirus by closing schools in Washington State until April 24th. We are also grateful for the steps you have each taken to promote equity at this difficult time, including canceling state-mandated standardized tests, allowing deferred payment plans for Seattle public utilities, and establishing 26 sites for students to pick up breakfast and lunch during the closure period.

At the same time, we are deeply concerned about the negative effects of the outbreak and school closures on Seattle Public Schools students, staff, and community members. As educators and unionists, we want every member of our communities to be able to emerge from this crisis physically, mentally, and economically whole. We believe that it is possible to both ensure safety through social distancing and promote equity through investment in our communities. 

From your respective positions within our school district, city, and state, we ask that you take the following steps to support the well-being of students, staff, families, and community members:

Support Students

  • Continue providing meals to SPS students and families, ensuring that meals are provided in ways that are easily accessible and allow social distancing.
  • Offer youth medical and social emotional supports, including access to nurses, health centers, and social workers. 
  • Ensure that identified students have access to special education services, ELL services, 504 services, and other supports throughout the closure period.
  • Support student access to enrichment materials and supplemental curricula.
  • Prevent un-enrollment or other negative attendance consequences for students who  exercised their right to self-quarantine during the period of community transmission of COVID-19.
  • Continue notification to families and students of confirmed cases to ensure the community is informed of transmission and prevent schools from being reopened during an active transmission period. 

Respect Educators and Other Education Workers

  • Ensure a continuity of pay, health care, retirement, and other benefits for all education workers. 
  • Provide hourly and day wage employees whose contracts have been terminated, including bus drivers, monthly compensation that is equivalent to the average number of hours they have worked per month so far in the 2019-2020 school year throughout the closure period. 
  • Maintain pay and benefits for certificated, classified, and long-term substitute educators that is not based on time sheets.
  • Allow essential staff including security and custodial workers to take leave and self-quarantine without penalties or lost wages or benefits.
  • Support substitute educators’ demand for monthly compensation that is equivalent to the average number of hours they have worked per month so far in the 2019-2020 school year. 
  • Maintain current special education staffing without penalizing schools for attendance numbers during the period of community transmission.
  • Return used sick leave to any education worker who self-quarantined out of an abundance of caution.
  • Follow negotiated COVID-19 protocols, including no disciplinary action against educators for exercising their right to self-quarantine for any reason during the period of community transmission of COVID-19.
  • Honor social distancing protocols by allowing educators to telecommute from home for remote learning throughout the closure period. 
  • Support the work of the Educational Technologists and Curriculum Specialists as they continue to remotely train staff on the use of learning management systems and telecommuting

Invest in Our Communities

  • Suspend mortgage and rent payments without interest throughout the period of community transmission.
  • Enact a city- and state-wide moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and late fees.
  • Require reasonable payment plans of up to 24 months for all rent, utility, and mortgage payments for tenants and homeowners affected by the epidemic.
  • Require extensions on all expiring leases until at least three months after the emergency declaration.
  • Halt all utility shut-offs for essential utilities, including water, gas, electricity, internet, and cell phone service.
  • Provide access to technology and utilities that support telecommuting and remote learning for low-income families.
  • Provide free, accessible testing and treatment related to COVID-19 for all members of our communities.
  • Support grassroots efforts to meet the needs of communities most affected by school closures.
  • Ensure safe conditions and health care in detention centers, prisons, and youth prisons, and de-incarcerate as many people in these detention centers and prisons as possible to prevent outbreaks. 
  • Advocate for federal and/or state paid family leave, unemployment benefits, and/or universal basic income that covers all wages and benefits lost temporarily or permanently due to COVID-19. 

By calling for these policies, we stand in solidarity with our union siblings who are advancing common good demands in other contexts, including educators in the Chicago Teachers Union, United Teachers Los Angeles, Massachusetts Teachers Association, Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, and Caucus of Working Educators. We also stand in solidarity with other grassroots organizations, community relief efforts, and leaders who are advocating for local families as well as families around the country, including but not limited to Working Washington, COVID-19 Mutual Aid Solidarity Network, Seattle Council Parent Teacher Student Association, Seattle Parent & Caregivers During Covid-19 Outbreak, Wa-BLOC, FEEST, La Resistencia/Northwest Detention Center Resistance, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and Senator Bernie Sanders. Most of all, we stand in solidarity with Seattle students, educators, workers, and families. 

Thank you each for your attention to these issues and for everything you do for our communities. 

In solidarity,

Social Equity Educators, including and along with the undersigned:

Sign the Petition: https://tinyurl.com/SEECovid

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