Letter to Members: Leading Amid Competing Needs

In-person vs. hybrid vs. online?

Safety vs. normalcy?

Essential frontline employees—who can feasibly do work remotely.

Students whose learning may be delayed, while their physical and mental health is at risk.

Educators and parents on every side of the divide—and our students in the balance.

At the local and state level, your union leaders are at the center of competing conversations every day. For every educator who wants in-person learning tomorrow, another believes it’s not safe until this pandemic is behind us. Some want a vaccine now—others say never. Far too many members are stressed beyond the breaking point trying to be everything for everyone—not the least for their own families.

Some students are embracing virtual learning, thanks to amazing work done by MEA members. But many are struggling emotionally and/or academically. While learning delay can be addressed over time, the emotional impact—of failure, of isolation, of stress, of loss of routine—is more difficult to manage.

These competing needs aren’t just issues for students and MEA members—administrators, school board members and parents are experiencing them every day.

In a pandemic, there are no clear choices—no one gets everything they want. The best we can do is to be guided by our principles. That every student deserves a high-quality education that meets their academic, social, emotional and physical needs.

That all school employees—teachers, education support professionals, and higher education faculty and staff—are essential workers who deserve the resources necessary to do their job and help students succeed.

That learning spaces must be healthy and safe, because the learning environment of our students is the working environment of our members.

That the best decisions are made locally, using collective bargaining to ensure the voices of our members are heard in decisions that affect them and their students.

These core beliefs can guide us to the right responses to the tough questions ahead.

Reopening schools for in-person learning needs to happen—safely. We must plan for how to get students the face-to-face education that best meets their and their family needs. But we must monitor the latest health information—including vaccinations and spread of new contagious variants of COVID-19—and make real-time decisions based on science and health expert input.

We need to heed the cries for help from students and parents, while ensuring they and our colleagues aren’t entering unsafe situations—just as we must heed the cries for help from our members who desperately need additional support and relief from this frantic pace.

We must strictly adhere to safety measures—from masking to social distancing to ventilation to disinfecting—inside our schools where we can control it best, but also in our communities where we must call on everyone’s better angels to do what’s right and safe and healthy.

We must make decisions locally—raise our voices and organize our communities to do what’s in the best interest of educators and students. Above all else, MEA will remain true to that core principle, working tirelessly to back the decisions made by our 1,100 local associations while advocating at the state level for the support our members and our students need.

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