Labor-management partnership offers framework to reopen schools

 As the nation’s parents and educators ponder sending children back to school in the face of an ongoing pandemic, a labor-management partnership that includes the AFT is putting forward a framework school districts can use in planning how to welcome back students.

kid in backpack stands and smiles
Photo by gettyimages/damircudic

The National Labor Management Partnership, noting that the COVID-19 crisis forced schools to move online almost overnight, credits educators and school support personnel with making immediate decisions to continue not only teaching and learning but also a host of other family supports. However, the partnership says in the framework released June 4 that many questions and concerns remain.

“We believe the question on reopening is not whether, but when and how, we can reopen our schools safely and responsibly in a way that puts health and well-being paramount,” AFT President Randi Weingarten says in “Collaborating in a Crisis: Working Together to Safely Reopen Our School Buildings.”

After health and safety, one primary concern of the partners is funding. Although the document provides no specifics, the AFT has begun advocating urgently for the $3 trillion HEROES Act—the first pandemic rescue bill in Congress that would avoid crippling cuts to public school programs.

The National Labor Management Partnership is a coalition of groups deeply concerned about the welfare of America’s students and families. It includes the AFT, the National Education Association, AASA—the School Superintendents Association, the National School Boards Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. 

A structure for collaboration

Collaborative partnerships begin with an agreement by unions and other stakeholders to “start somewhere,” the LMP document says, picking an issue of common interest and addressing it. The partners present a “collaboration matrix” that uses a district leadership team or COVID-19 task force to oversee and support working groups, keep the community informed, advocate for funding, coordinate budgets and seek more resources as needed.

A district’s leadership team might consist of the superintendent and assistant superintendents, the union president and executive board, a school board liaison, a PTA council representative or other parent leader, and community representatives, particularly those representing marginalized groups.

Each working group would be guided by a senior administrator in a particular area, such as operations, curriculum and instruction, special education, technology or human resources. For instance, there might be working groups on health and safety, teaching and learning, operations, equity, or social and emotional health.

The job of each working group would be to raise and answer pressing questions:

A health and safety group might ask which COVID-19 screening measures make sense for the school community, or what happens when students or staff test positive, or whether there’s enough personal protective equipment, especially for support staff.

A teaching and learning group might ask about expectations for in-person instruction, online face-to-face instruction and independent learning. It could tackle questions on grading, technology and professional development.

An operations group would consider adjustments to the school calendar, requirements for physical distancing and class size, and issues with school transportation.

An equity group would address racial justice, internet access, food services, after-school programs and additional support through wraparound services.

A social and emotional working group might consider setting aside time during the first week for the school community to grieve, heal, reconnect and strengthen bonds before the focus on instruction begins. The group would ask about mental health supports, creating a trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive school culture, and how to ensure enough specialized personnel to address students’ needs.

“This is all uncharted territory, and doing this work well requires us to collaborate like never before,” Weingarten says in the report. “Together, we can make a plan for schools to work in our new reality.”

[Annette Licitra]