On March 13, 2020, we closed cubby doors, unplugged projectors, and put displaced chairs where they belonged. We closed our doors and opened zooms. We told our students we would miss them but we would see them soon. And we’ve wanted to see their faces in-person since then. We’ve taught phonics over sketchy internet, danced out of sunroofs in drive-by celebrations, and consoled tears in breakout rooms. We want to be back with our students. We’ve wanted that since March 14th of 2020.
As COVID infections spiked and death tolls rose over the summer, we held a Town Hall with Dr. Mubenga to create a space where district administrators could hear educator concerns and voices. We advocated for safety on Re-Open Task Forces that ended in November. We organized our co-workers and parents to speak out and urged not that schools remain closed all year but that the decision to return to in-person learning should be governed by safety metrics. And our school board listened. In an act to prioritize staff and student safety, our school board concluded it would not be safe to return in person until the positive test rate for COVID-19 in Durham County dropped below 4% for two consecutive weeks. In January, when that health metric had not been met, the Board voted to stay in Plan C for the remainder of the year to allow staff, students, and parents to settle into a routine for virtual learning.
With educators throughout Durham and North Carolina receiving their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this week, now is the time to begin thinking about the best way to safely return to in-person learning. In a few short weeks, school workers will be fully vaccinated — ready and excited to resume in-person work with our students. Yet Durham did not have a thoughtful conversation about how to return safely and soon. Instead, the DPS administration and Board of Education acted hastily under the pressure of an outside threat: the fear that SB 37 could become law. SB37 was proposed for the sole purpose of dividing our Durham Community and disrupting our local power. It was never about student success. SB37 left our district administrators and school board members feeling boxed in, which led to their decision on February 18th to establish a timeline for re-opening without having a chance to hear from all of us — a timeline leaves us so close, yet so far away from a safe re-open.
Last week, DAE held meetings with each school board member to raise the concerns of educators and parents about the reopen timeline. We expressed to each board member that we believe there is a path forward towards a safe return just a few weeks later than the timeline it approved last week, and asked them to reconsider their decision. We coordinated public comment from educators and parents, asking for a change in the reopen date that allows for educators to receive the vaccine that our statewide organization, NCAE, fought so hard for and to allow building level teams to thoroughly plan for holding students in-person. And some of our school board members did not listen.
The Durham Association of Educators has never and will never create or support plans to threaten the lives of anyone. We would like to correct the assumption and assertion that our organization has ever encouraged our members to send threats. We guide our members to communicate about their working conditions, their students’ learning conditions, and to offer political critique. We are incredibly proud of the work of educators and parents who contacted the board under our leadership to advocate for the safety of students, staff, and our students’ families. We know our rank-and-file educators are the experts about their working conditions and their students’ learning conditions. We will always stand behind staff advocating for safe working and learning conditions in Durham Public Schools and we reject attempts to make staff feel guilty for taking action.
The Durham Association of Educators is a member-run organization dedicated to building power amongst educators, parents, and community stakeholders to defend public schools and transform them into the schools we all deserve. We build power through deeply listening to our members, non-members, parents, students, and community allies. By listening to our base, we take strategic actions, evaluate our effectiveness, and support one another with care. Our action steps for our members moving forward from tonight:
- We recommend that every educator do what is safest for them and their family, and encourage our members to be in touch around support needed.
- We invite our members and community stakeholders to join our Mass Meeting next Tuesday, March 9th, at 5 pm to help build plans for union-run health and safety teams.