Guide to Bringing Parents, Patients, Students and Community Together to Reopen America’s Schools Safely and Equitably

It is no secret that our nation’s public schools have historically been underfunded and were not adequately prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, that lack of

investment only exacerbated the inequality facing our most vulnerable students. In order to reopen America’s public schools safely and equitably, we must address the conditions both inside schools and outside, in our communities. This will require rethinking how we ensure the health and safety of our students, educators, school staff, parents and broader community. It will also require greater investment in our school communities than before the COVID-19 pandemic—not less.

This guide is intended to be used along with the AFT’s “A Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities.” Our plan calls for:

  1. Maintaining physical distancing until the number of new cases declines for at least 14 consecutive days.
  2. Putting in place the infrastructure and resources to test, trace and isolate new cases.
  3. Deploying the public health tools that prevent the virus’ spread, and aligning them with education strategies that meet the needs of students.
  4. Involving workers, unions, parents and communities in all planning.
  5. Investing in recovery: Do not abandon America’s communities or forfeit America’s future.

The power of union and community coming together is more important than ever. We must use this unique moment in history and the reopening of America’s schools to ensure our communities receive the education ALL students deserve. Below are some tools and resources to help guide your work in this process.

PHASE I

STEP 1: CONVENE A COMMUNITY CONVERSATION ON HOW TO REOPEN SAFELY. 

Share the AFT plan as a conversation starter and create dialogue around:

  • What are the challenges and opportunities created by COVID-19? Begin the community healing process; this has been an emotional and traumatic event for students and families. For example, how did the district respond to the crisis, including addressing: distance learning, the technology gap, meals and nutrition, mental health of students, and accommodations for students with disabilities, English language learners, and students with informal housing arrangements?
  • What are the conditions inside our schools we must address as part of reopening?
  • What are the conditions outside our schools that affect our students and families that we must address as part of reopening?
  • What do people like about the AFT’s reopening plan that should be included in our local plan?
  • What is missing that we want addressed for our district, city and or state?

Create a survey to identify important issues and concerns:

  •  Consider creating a simple online survey for your members and community to fill out about what they think is most important to address in terms of the health and well-being of students and the school community.
  • In addition to online surveys, consider using Hustle as a quick way to do a poll, or hold a telephone town hall using Maestro and Zoom so you can ask questions and get just-in-time responses.

STEP 2: CREATE YOUR OWN COMMUNITY TASKFORCE OR ALLIANCE TO INFORM THE REOPENING PROCESS. 

Who should be involved?

  • Start with your core of stakeholders, who share your values and have a direct connection to students, families and neighborhoods; make sure they reflect the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of your community—e.g., parents, students, education advocates, community groups, healthcare advocates and other unions.
  • Then cast a wider net to leverage power, influence and broader relationships, again making sure they reflect the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of your community—consider local foundations, faith leaders, immigrant rights groups, small businesses, advocates for senior citizens, like-minded school board and city council members, policy think tank groups, social justice/civil rights groups and service organizations like United Way, Boys & Girls Club, etc.

What should it do?

  • Identify a set of priorities/requirements for reopening schools in your district, including education, health and other critical issues affecting families. Consider community schools as a potential strategy to inform your list.Include what is not acceptable or would make the situation worse, such as budget cuts, reduction in staff, larger class sizes, etc.Include alternatives to budget cuts and austerity, such as progressive revenue solutions that make the 1 percent and corporations pay their fair share, and asking the private sector and philanthropy to help pay.

How often should it meet?

  • This body should be invited and meet right away. We are losing time each day as politicians claim the only thing to do is make cuts due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.Meet as needed. Every two weeks is a good pace.

PHASE II

STEP 3: PUBLICLY LAUNCH YOUR LOCAL PRIORITIES/ DEMANDS/PLAN TO REOPEN SCHOOLS.

Solidify your priorities and demands, and develop a way to release them together.

  • This could take the form of a letter addressed to elected officials and jointly signed by lots of organizations and people of influence who agree with your plan.
  • It could also be something more comprehensive, like the plan the AFT has released nationally.
  • The more stakeholders who sign on in support of your plan, the stronger it will seem to decision-makers.

Share your plan publicly and try to get the media to cover it.

  •  Consider writing op-eds to reinforce what you share.
  •  Ask everyone who supports your plan to share it with their networks.
  • Consider using diverse local media outlets that are representative of the students and communities you serve. Language-accessible and community newspapers are effective ways of getting the message across.

STEP 4: TURN YOUR LOCAL PLAN INTO A COMMUNITY ORGANIZING CAMPAIGN.

Launch a petition campaign.

  • Turn your set of demands into a petition that allows individuals to sign in support.
  • The more people who read, understand and take action in support of your local plan, the more likely it is to succeed.

Organize meetings with elected officials/decision-makers to discuss your plan and directly and clearly ask them to support it.

  • These meetings can be scheduled virtually.
  • Make sure these meetings include a diverse set of stakeholders to show the breadth and power of your campaign.
  • Prepare fact sheets and talking points that list all of the ways students, educators and families have been affected by COVID-19.
  • These will be important to bring real-life stories of people to this effort.
  • Remember, make information available in different languages represented in the community.
  • The AFT has created a number of these resources, which can be found at www.aft.org/coronavirus.

Develop creative ways for your members and community to show support.

  • Consider creating sample social media graphics and posts that can easily be shared by your members and community allies.
  •  Organize virtual happy hours and casual conversations where people can discuss what they can do personally to ensure schools reopen safely.
  • Organize virtual rallies where lots of people can join and hear directly from students, parents, educators, nurses, community leaders and union leaders about what is at stake and why they must act now.
  • Organize reopening caravan rallies where supporters who have access to vehicles can drive around high-traffic parts of town, school district buildings and other places to be visible.
  • Supporters can write messages on their car windows or tape posters with messages inside for people to see.

PHASE III

STEP 5: PREPARE TO HOLD DECISION-MAKERS ACCOUNTABLE AND APPLY PRESSURE.

Start petition or letter-writing campaigns.

  • Direct these toward individual decision-makers. If they say they will not support the components of your reopening plans they may change their mind after hearing their position is unpopular to lots of voters in the district.

Create “I Pledge to Vote Based on Reopening Correctly” materials for people to sign.

  • The more elected officials see that their supportfor your reopening plan is connected to theirown election, the more they will take itseriously.

Download the guide in English & Spanish