Reds in Ed statement
Reds in Ed stands in solidarity with all essential workers — in health care, agriculture, retail, culinary services, distribution, transportation, janitorial, childcare, and more — who are working to sustain everyone’s survival while organizing for safe working conditions.
Education workers and their unions have been fighting for our students and their families, many public school parents are themselves essential workers, recognizing the deep connection between learning and working conditions. We are organizing in the midst of a pandemic that has deepened already existing inequalities.
Teachers’ unions fought hard to keep students and education workers safe as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded. Many students receive essential services like food assistance, medical care, and mental health care through public schools. These services, dangerously underfunded even before the pandemic, have now become patchwork systems that struggle to meet the great needs of students, families and communities.
The pandemic has exposed and deepened inequities in the U.S. capitalist system. Banks and corporations have been bailed out while some districts are already announcing proposed budget cuts and staffing cuts. In Hawaii, a 20 percent pay cut for teachers has been proposed by the governor, and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is seeking cuts to education. It is our schools and communities that need to be bailed out, not the extremely wealthy.
Teachers’ unions fight to protect students
In early March, shortly after community spread was reported in the United States, many teachers’ unions were critical to making school closures happen. Education workers spoke at school and at school board meetings, and advocated for closures to protect student and workers’ health. Unions negotiated the closures for many hours. Though over 50 education workers and 50 transportation workers had died in NYC of COVID-19 by mid April, many more lives could have been lost if the schools had not closed when they did.
While advocating for closures, the unions also insisted that schools and districts keep providing resources to families. Fifty-one percent of public school students, over 25 million children, qualify for free and reduced lunch. School districts in multiple states have halted providing food to students deepening inequities and the crisis. Regardless, education workers have been making sure their students get food in a myriad of ways. Before food distribution was secured in San Francisco, United Educators of San Francisco signed up almost 1,000 volunteers to distribute food to families. Our unions have been instrumental in making sure districts continue to provide food services.
Teachers’ unions in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and other places across the country have reached binding agreements with school districts ensuring flexible schedules for students and fair working conditions for teachers. Teachers will have the ability to ensure lessons meet students emotional and social needs. Unions have also won protections against students being harmed by grading policies and lack of access. Many districts and unions are still negotiating these agreements.
Teachers’ unions remain vigilant in the struggle to stop the de-funding and privatization of public education. In Alaska, a sole source contract of $525,000 was signed with Florida Virtual School, which is notorious for mismanagement. With no input from teachers, the out-of-state agency established an online school that will remain after the pandemic.
Education workers during the pandemic have also taken the initiative and made sure that the essential services for student health, including mental health, continue as best they can. Despite the preceding widespread cuts to nursing and mental health staff, counselors, nurses and social workers are working overtime to engage with families and provide necessary material support.
Some school districts have announced potential layoffs, a threat to further harm students, and undermine public education, in a time of increased crisis. The cuts are proposed to pressure education workers to accept contract violations, weaken our unions, and create unsafe learning conditions. Teachers have an obligation to ensure safe learning and working conditions, and hold employers accountable in the fight against COVID-19 as well.
Inequities deepen during pandemic
Despite the necessity of closing the schools for public health, school closures revealed the deep inequities omnipresent in the U.S. school system. The school location provides not only learning opportunities and community but food, material support, and technological access many families just don’t have. The introduction of distance learning deepened inequities among students and communities. A patchwork system of school districts distributing limited computers and hotspots for Internet access followed school closures. Most school districts are not able to provide a computer for all families. Many families are still without a device or Internet access. For those with access, many districts have not provided training to use online platforms or have not provided translated materials. According to the last U.S. Census, 21 percent of people speak a primary language that is not English, and eight percent of them do not consider themselves fluent in English.
In Los Angeles, some teachers are reporting only 50 percent of students are engaging at all. Teachers report similar participation across the country, with even less participation in low-income communities with little to no Internet services.
In the 2017-2018 school year, 1.5 million public school students were homeless, higher than in the previous 12 years. Students who are homeless, live in poverty or are in foster care are having a more difficult time accessing distance learning, if they are able to at all. Many of our students are also living with parents working on the front lines, parents working full time and not able to offer support, taking care of younger siblings and more. Learning in a school building with the pressures of poverty and oppression is hard, distance learning that much more impossible.
Access for students with disabilities during distance learning is another major issue. Public schools had just a few weeks to try to develop systems that would be inclusive of the 14 percent of students, or 7 million who receive services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These services have been chronically underfunded. Now, trying to deliver these services remotely is especially challenging for students’ families and teachers.
Distance learning is not equitable education. It is a patchwork of band-aid measures. Still, many districts without strong union agreements are micromanaging teacher hours, requiring unreasonable lesson quantities to be posted, playing games with students’ graduation requirements, grading unreasonably, and more! It is the education workers and the most mobilized unions that are standing in the way of policies that punish our students for the crisis.
Bailout schools and communities, not banks and corporations
The CARES Act transfers $454 billion to the banks and corporations to bail them out, and that amount can legally be expanded to $4.5 trillion. Children, families and communities must be bailed out instead. One-third of people in the United States could not pay rent in April. As of April 24, 26 million people had filed for unemployment in a five-week period. Millions more have lost their jobs but couldn’t apply for unemployment. Before 2020, the rate of unemployment among Black workers was twice that of white workers. Rates of Latino and Asian unemployment were also higher. Communities of color are the hardest hit by the crisis in public health and the economy. Immediate relief for workers is needed in the form of rent and debt cancellation.
If schools physically open up in the fall, funds must be channeled to prioritize students’ safety, health, and equitable education. All school-based workers including bus drivers must be provided with personal protective equipment, and systems to mitigate virus spread must be in place and maintained. To fight COVID-19 and maintain healthy populations, every school must have a nurse, counselors, psychologists, and social workers. Safety standards issued by OSHA call for gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant for workers in school settings. More custodial and transportation staff must be hired in order for new mitigation systems to be successful.
No funds should be spent facilitating the presence of police in public schools. The open spigot of trillions of dollars for corporations can instead be used for our schools and communities. But, there are other massive sources of funds that can be used to provide for education. U.S. military spending makes up 54 percent of the federal budget, while only 6 percent goes to education. Eighty billion dollars is spent every year to imprison working class people, the majority for nonviolent crimes. The capitalist government has prioritized prisons and war over our students, families and education workers.
Our society has the wealth to beat COVID-19, provide quality public education to all, and meet everyone’s basic needs. Our economy does not need to be anchored in endless imperialist war and racist oppression instead of investing in our future, the youth. The key to the change we need is in building struggle to defend public education and ultimately to win a society that provides for the needs of the masses, not the tiny clique of the wealthy. To change course, control of the wealth must be removed from the banks and the wealthiest 1 percent, and directed to our children, schools and communities. Reds in Ed invites education workers — from teachers to paraprofessionals to cafeteria workers and secretaries — and communities to join together in this struggle. Visit RedsInEd.org, subscribe to the Reds in Ed newsletter, and take action!