Plans for fall bring importance of educator voices to forefront
With the state’s official guidance for what education will look like this fall out, educators are now continuing to advocate for themselves and students.
Education Minnesota’s officers and governing board released the following statement after the governor’s announcement July 30:
Education Minnesota believes in the highest standards for returning to in-person learning. That means looking at both county and school building metrics.
Education Minnesota and our locals will work to ensure that any school, district or campus in Minnesota that is providing in-person instruction during this pandemic is prepared and able to abide by the safety standards outlined by the state, federal government and medical professionals. If those standards are not met, we will do everything we can to protect students and all the education professionals who care for and instruct those students.
Nothing is off the table when it comes to the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve. Education Minnesota will continue to bring all necessary resources to bear, including providing bargaining information, support and tools, staff assistance in developing organizing plans, supporting affiliates and individuals in legal matters, filing necessary grievances and reports to OSHA and DOLI, and working with and educating other stakeholders in advocacy for safe reopening plans – from the bargaining table to the Legislature and the courtroom – with the goal of securing safe conditions for all students, staff and faculty.
Education Minnesota believes we must invest in the recovery and redesign of our schools. There must be an investment in public health and in our schools, universities, hospitals and local and state governments. We must upend the policies and processes that have benefited some students while not prioritizing others, specifically low-income students, Black and brown students and students with disabilities.
Education Minnesota will continue to fight for the funding needed to not only safely reopen schools and campuses, but to rebuild our public education system so all students, no matter what they look like or where they come from, have access to welcoming schools where they can pursue their dreams. We don’t just want to “get back” to school. We want to make the schools our students return to better.
Education Minnesota staff have been working to develop legal guidance, memorandums of understanding for contracts and lesson planning resources for educators and local unions after hearing the governor’s Safe Learning Plan.
All of those resources are available on www.educationminnesota.org/resources/in-the-classroom/Coronavirus.
If you have questions or concerns that aren’t addressed in any of the provided resources, please reach out to your local union president or Education Minnesota field staff.
Local unions partner with districts
Many local unions have been able to have a seat at the table in their district’s plans for possible in-person, hybrid or full distance learning.
In Windom, local presidents Laura Alvstad and Kristi Maricle said they were lucky to be invited into the district discussions from the start.
“We don’t start school until Sept. 14, since we have a building project, so we have time to continue to address these concerns and brainstorm solutions,” said Alvstad. “We need to remember to be flexible and adaptable because this is new to all of us.”
In Windom, hybrid learning means using all of their physical space and hiring more staff.
“We would use all physical spaces to spread out students and reduce class sizes,” said Alvstad. “Our school board has been supportive and approved hiring additional teaching staff.”
But even after Gov. Tim Walz released his guidance, Alvstad and Maricle know there are still more details to be worked out.
“We still need to work out how do we support mental health needs of students and staff, and how will we support teachers who get sick and need to be out of the building for extended time,” Alvstad said.
In Edina, union president Tom Connell said the district has brought educators in at every level of decision-making.
“The district created an operational task force and an instructional design task force. They invited us in and asked who should be on the task forces,” said Connell. “We brought our negotiators in. We’ve been negotiating the whole summer.”
Connell said he has made sure to make communication a central piece of his work as a leader.
“I’ve been trying to send out as much information in weekly emails to hopefully ease their nerves,” he said.
In Hibbing, local president Susan Nelson said not only is the district working with the union, but neighboring districts are all working together.
“The area superintendents are all talking with each other, so we don’t do this and have kids move around,” she said. “We all want to keep our numbers stable. We want to keep all of our plans similar.”
Nelson said she asked the district if the local could be at the table, and the administration quickly agreed.
“Our superintendent wants to work within the contract and create MOUs and make sure everyone is happy and things meet the contract,” she said. “We’re been working hard and we’ve been getting paid during this time.”
School nurses play key role in plans
School nurses will have a large role to play in how districts will be implementing learning this fall.
The School Nurses of Minnesota organization has been working all summer with its members to develop toolkits and guidance.
“School nurses are the public health experts for all districts and can provide leadership to coordinate the effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” said Deb Landin, a licensed school nurse in Warroad. “It is going to take a community-wide effort to reduce this risk and staff need to have an active role in doing so.”
During the building closures this spring, Gretchen Gosh, an Edina licensed school nurse, said she met as part of her student support teams every week to discuss students who were at risk for attendance, mental health, behavior, poor grades or teacher-reported concerns. She expects those roles will continue, especially if her district does hybrid or continues distance learning this fall.
“Additionally, we support staff, students and families on public health interventions as they relate to COVID-19. We continued to connect with our medically fragile students virtually,” Gosh said.
In Lakeville, Ellen Parker, a licensed school nurse, has spent the summer developing an operations manual with district leaders. She has helped take inventory of each building’s nurse’s office supplies and develop screening tools and protocols if any in-person learning takes place.
“I will be doing training for building nurses on symptom screenings. How are you going to monitor staff and students? How are you doing isolation?” said Parker. “We need to make sure we are monitoring attendance and making sure to keep students in academics if they are positive or needing to be quarantined.”
Parker will remain the district’s COVID coordinator this fall.
“I will be connecting with SNOM and pooling resources,” she said. “We have been in constant contact to find out what’s working and what’s not.”
“Whatever the model we do, we just want to make sure the kids are taken care of. They need a bridge between their health, the community and their education. Each kid needs to get what they need and the playing field is equal for all of them.”