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Back to school?
Make it safe for students, staff, community

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, August 21, 2020

By Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, President,
Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation

In a few weeks’ time, our social media feeds usually are filled with photos of kids on their first day of school. The photos may be cheesy, but deep down, we all love them.

My own oldest child should be standing outside our home with a big grin, ready to get on a bus for their first day of Kindergarten. Kindergarten — a right of passage from little kid to big kid. Like the high school or college graduating class of 2020, those entering school in the year 2020 will hold a special place in history.

This pandemic and the considerations for school this fall are showing just how critical the education ecosystem is to every aspect of our community and our livelihoods.

Many educators and school staff never stopped working during the pandemic. For months, they have been putting their own lives on the line to provide critical care systems for the children of our most essential employees. They have distributed family-sustaining food throughout every neighborhood via a vast network of school pick-up sites, bus drop-offs and community centers. Altogether, they have proven that the impossible is possible.

As we transition into a very different idea of ‘back to school’ this year, the most important consideration should be safety for all.

Many of those who have been holding us together during this time are the lowest-paid employees in our education ecosystem: hourly school employees. They work as education support professionals, bus drivers, cooks, janitors and other jobs.

These hourly school employees deserve a badge of honor, hazard pay — and unemployment benefits. Most hourly school employees are not eligible for unemployment under any circumstances, much less a layoff-inducing pandemic. This must be changed.

As we transition into a very different idea of “back to school” this year, the most important consideration should be safety for all: Safety for students, safety for staff and safety for our communities. In this moment, safety does not come easy. Safety is actually REALLY, REALLY HARD right now.

Working parents are using glue sticks to hold their lives together as they juggle work, childcare and education priorities. Laid-off and underemployed families literally are at a breaking point. Back to school decisions are making vulnerable families even more vulnerable.

We must use the most ultimate form of solidarity for a little while longer and put nobody at risk as we consider reopening the school doors. Currently, school districts are making plans without consulting the very educators who will be asked to carry out impossible duties. This choice is leading to chaos and ultimately will undermine the safety of our communities and success of our students.

Our education ecosystem is the most powerful tool we have to get through this pandemic as a stronger, more resilient community. Let our expert educators and staff who work directly with students determine that direction. Especially listen to the voices of those who work with the most highly-impacted communities. Every working family has a stake in these decisions.

Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou was re-elected December 11, 2019 to a second four-year term as president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

Contact MRLF president Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou at 612-321-5670 or chelsie@minneapolisunions.org.


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