I am writing these words in mid-August, as you are poised to start your school year. Confusion and anxiety are two words that permeate every conversation, email, and Zoom. This isn’t how it was supposed to be.
By the time you read this, school will have started for many of you. Whether you are back in a building with students, an empty building without them, or conducting remote instruction from home, you may be a few weeks into the year.
As I sit here, writing this a few paragraphs at a time in between conversations with PSEA staff, staff at PDE, legislators, and most importantly, your elected PSEA leaders, I struggle with what to say to you.
I could tell you about what we have done since this started: securing guaranteed pay and benefits, providing professional development, releasing a back-to-school report, pushing state government for more and stronger guidance and health care metrics, running a PR campaign focused on viral mitigation, putting out scores of interviews, op-eds, testimonies, and press releases. Yet, none of that changes the unknown, the lack of certainty.
Why are we here?
A failing national strategy to combat this virus has, unfortunately and in large part, politicized this issue, and the result has caused our collective advocacy for you and your students’ safety to result in a significant change in the public attitude. Many parents are desperate to get their children back into classrooms, because we all know that, in an ideal world, that is the best way to educate the overwhelming majority of students. The net effect of this is seen in a defeating array of social media posts that, to me, feels like teachers and support professionals are spoken about as though they don’t even exist in the schools – they are an afterthought.
That is not the case with PSEA. Right now your UniServ staff are working overtime to attend to the urgent needs of you and your colleagues. They are doing their collective best to provide you with a safer environment, access to PPE, necessary MOUs, and input into health and safety plans. We are in daily talks with the Department of Education and other public education stakeholders as we endeavor to provide better guidance, recommendations, and mandates to increase safety in your schools.
As you read this, know that this advocacy has not stopped. In fact, it has likely increased as we ensure that the plans put down on paper and approved by school boards are adhered to - that you are not an afterthought, that your safety and your students’ health is at the forefront of PSEA’s concerns. We will be telling your story to legislators, bureaucrats, the press, and the public. Our voice and your voice will be heard.
I know that voice can make a difference. When we speak with the governor’s office, state departments, and lawmakers, they listen. And they listen because they know there are 180,000 dedicated, hardworking, committed educators and support professionals standing behind us when we have those conversations.
Every day, I marvel at the power and influence you have. And I want to remind you just how important that is to our work - and how important you are to this Association. PSEA will do everything possible to help you. That’s why we’re here.