More than 150 educators and community members rallied outside Brookline High School on election night to demand that Brookline’s School Committee agree to a reopening plan based on CDC guidelines. The rally followed Brookline educators’ work action of taking personal or sick days to stand in solidarity against the School Committee’s unsafe reopening plan and continued disrespect of educators. While marching six feet apart, attendees chanted: “When educators and students are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!”
The Brookline Educators Union has been in contentious negotiation with the Brookline School Committee, which has refused to codify six feet of distance between students in their Memorandum of Agreement negotiations.
The BEU organized the rally to demand that the district include six feet of separation language into the MOA and to protest what they called “nasty” letters from the Superintendent, which threatened educators who engage in work action with docked pay. Brookline educator Eric Coburn told Liberation News, “We’re out here because the School Committee is out of touch… This is part of a broader struggle.”
The action comes in the wake of mounting tensions caused by massive layoffs earlier this year. Brookline laid off over 300 educators in June, citing budget shortfalls due to COVID, before reinstating most of them after widespread union and community pushback. Brookline educator and unionist Graciela Mohamedi said, “I don’t trust the School Committee. They decided 300 of us were expendable.”
When it was her turn at the mic, BEU President Jessica Wender-Shubow agreed. “This fight is really about an economic model that puts profit over people in an insane drive to reopen the economy.”
Wender-Shubow called out Brookline’s four resident billionaires for creating the conditions that put public schools in crisis. Educators and community members have protested a School Committee described as “out of touch” with scientific and community realities. Speakers repeatedly pointed out that Brookline’s School Committee refuses to acknowledge the interconnectedness of communities in the Greater Boston area. While many of Boston’s neighborhoods have COVID rates above 10 percent, Brookline continues to see itself as an island or “gated community.”
The problems that Brookline educators’ are facing now shed light on a greater struggle plaguing educators across Massachusetts and the nation. It exposes the long history of underfunding public schools and disregarding the expertise of the workers who run them.
Merrie Najimy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, connected this struggle to systemic racism and sexism within our public institutions. In an interview with Liberation News, she explained, “This is a fight both for health and safety and wellness of our students, teachers, and Brookline community members, but it’s also a fight against patriarchy. It’s the white men in charge of this country, in charge of this state, in charge of public education, who absolutely refuse to be honest partners with a profession that is predominantly run by women and a profession that takes care of the most vulnerable people in society: our youth. This is Brookline Educators holding the line to say: common sense and science consensus tells us we’re safer at six feet.”
The union states they hope to avoid disruptions to student learning and are awaiting the School Committee’s response, but that they are prepared to escalate. They continued to do so on Thursday and Friday with solidarity walk-ins to school buildings.