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February 15, 2021

Lorretta Johnson: A Trailblazer for Workers and Civil Rights

From Teachers Aid to National Secretary-Treasurer

As we honor Black History Month the AFT does not need to look far for trailblazers. From whatever position she held, from Baltimore to the national union to representing the AFT around the world, Loretta Johnson was a trailblazer, a doer and a mentor. Most of us who have been fortunate to work with Lorretta know her as the AFT’s secretary-treasurer from 2011- 2020, and as the union’s executive vice president from 2008 to 2011.

Loretta Johnson

But Loretta’s leadership, accomplishments and groundbreaking started long before. She started her career in 1966 as a teacher’s aide in a Baltimore elementary school, where she earned $2.25 an hour and received no benefits. To improve the work situation of paraprofessionals like herself, she organized them into the Baltimore Teachers Union. In 1970, she negotiated the union’s first contract, which was especially notable for its grievance procedure. That experience laid the foundation for Johnson’s union activism. Her efforts helped the BTU become a lobbying and political force in City Hall, the Baltimore community and the Maryland state Legislature.

No one has been a stronger fighter than Loretta for school support staff receiving the recognition, the compensation, the respect they deserve. Loretta has organized employees, especially support staff, throughout the country and worked hand in hand with the late Al Shanker in building our union’s presence among these workers. She was the first support staff member to be an officer of our national union.

Loretta held many leadership positions throughout the national and international labor and civil rights movements. But more than titles, Loretta has been about fighting for fairness, fighting for justice, fighting for what is just plain right.

CDC Guidelines for Reopening K-12 Schools

This past Friday, the CDC released its Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation, and the Department of Education released its companion ED COVID Handbook, Volume 1: Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools. The following links provide information in various levels of detail:

The CDC’s science-based strategy is an integrated package of tools to support safe school openings and protect teachers, students, and school staff. The bedrock of this strategy¸ consistent with AFT recommendations since last April, is layered mitigation consisting of: Universal and correct use of masks, Physical distancing, Handwashing and respiratory etiquette, Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, and Diagnostic testing and rapid and efficient contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the health department. More specifically the CDC states that the preponderance of evidence indicates that masking and physical distancing are most essential: Universal and correct use of masks should be required for all students, teachers and staff, and Physical distancing of at least 6 feet between people, with cohorting or podding of students to minimize exposure across the school environment.

  • Testing: The CDC emphasizes regular testing to identify individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection to limit transmission and outbreaks, and vaccination for teachers and school staff, and in communities, as soon as supply allows.
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including ventilation: Ventilation is addressed in the section related to cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities. The CDC’s focus on opening windows and doors to increase circulation is an area where the AFT’s reopening plan differs from the guidance.
  • Vaccinations: Frontline essential workers, including teachers and school staff, be prioritized for vaccination. The guidance adds that the CDC strongly encourages states to prioritize teachers and other school staff to get vaccinated as soon as supply allows.
  • Accommodations: At all levels of community transmission, employers should provide reassignment, remote work, or other options for staff who have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 to limit the risk of workplace exposure. When these conditions are disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must provide reasonable accommodation subject to undue hardship
  • Temporary closures: While the CDC guidance does not contain a closure trigger, the guidance indicates that schools in hybrid or in- person modes may temporarily close for in-person learning in cases of active in-school outbreaks, rapid or persistent rises in community transmission, or severe burden on health care capacity.
  • Lastly the CDC acknowledges the need for more studies of the impact of school reopening in diverse communities and that the guidance may be altered by the spread of new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Education released a companion document to the CDC operational guidance. This handbook is the first of two volumes and aims to provide practical examples for educators and staff to implement CDC’s recommended safe practices for in-person learning.

Highlights include: Masking practices, including an example from the Boston Public Schools/ Boston Teachers Union collective bargaining agreement, Physical distancing practices, including an example from Washington DC schools, Examples of cleaning and maintain healthy facilities, including ventilation improvements, with an example from New York City, Specific ideas around cohorting and transportation of students including seating one student per row and assigning each bus rider to a designated seat that is the same every day, Ideas for Stakeholder Engagement that include educators, staff, parents and community and students.

State of Michigan Initiatives on Safely Reopening Schools

  • Restoring Drinking Water in Schools: Last Friday, the state provided a webinar on restoring drinking water in schools. The PowerPoint presentation used are: Restoring Drinking Water in Schools and Legionella Considerations for Schools.
  • COVID Testing for Educators: The MI Safe Schools Testing Program from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services provides FREE COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to PreK-12 educators and staff in schools across Michigan. Over 400 schools and 11,000 educators and staff have signed up for testing so far. Visit www.Michigan.gov/schoolCOVIDtesting to find out more about the program.

New Deal for Higher Education Could Restore Public Colleges and Universities

The AFT and the American Association of University Professors launched a bold campaign Feb. 10, introducing “A New Deal for Higher Education” that calls for massive federal investment to make public colleges and universities more accessible to all students. The launch event featured support from activists and legislators, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The New Deal for Higher Education centers on four main values:

  • Building prosperity from the bottom up.
  • Advancing social, racial and economic justice.
  • Strengthening democracy and civil society.
  • Fostering knowledge and innovation.

The platform re-centers public colleges and universities as a common good and addresses tuition costs, institutional funding and student debt relief. It spotlights reforms related to racial injustice and inequities, labor practices, academic freedom and governance, federal research funding, technical and vocational education, and a host of other challenges. To sign on, check out https://newdealforhighered.org/.

Upcoming Professional Development

AFT Michigan – Virtual Workshop

May I Have This Dance Trauma PreK-14

March 6, 2021, 8:30 a.m. -4:00 p.m.

This workshop will provide participants with a trove of ideas, strategies, and information about trauma, as well as enhancing one’s leverage to make positive transformational changes in and outside the classroom to support students’ achievement.

Click here to register.

AFT Professional Learning

Celebrating Dr. Seuss’ Birthday with Random House Children’s Books Feb. 16, at 4 p.m. EST

Join Random House Children’s Books and Share My Lesson for an exploration of preK-5 educator resources, classroom activities, and ways to have fun with reading! Learn more about how your virtual or in-person classroom can celebrate the biggest reading event of the year on March 2, Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Don’t miss your chance to win Dr. Seuss books by entering the Hats Off to Reading Giveaway!

Supporting Students with Grief and Loss, Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 6 p.m. EST

If you are a new teacher in your first five years of teaching, join AFT national trainer Danny Panaguia who will share strategies as a grief-sensitive educator; participants will receive a complimentary kit, which includes valuable tools and resources.

Contributing Voices: Examining Essays from The 1619 Project with Nikole Hannah-Jones, Thursday, Feb. 18, at 5 p.m. EST

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and members of the Pulitzer Center education team as they explore a selection of essays in The 1619 Project, a groundbreaking edition of the New York Times Magazine that re-examines the legacy of enslavement in the United States and highlights the contributions of Black Americans to our democracy. AFT President Randi Weingarten will open the webinar.

Strengthening Mind and Body with Yoga, Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. EST

Back by popular demand! Join Eleanor Harris—a classroom teacher in the Austin (Texas) Independent School District, and a health and fitness professional—for a virtual yoga session. This session will focus on the muscles, bones and joints. Participants should have a space where they can lie down on the floor, or a space near a wall to sit; a blanket or towel; and either a yoga strap or belt.

In solidarity,

David Hecker, President

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