A Message from the CEA President: Raising our Collective Voices for Return to School

Dear educators, support professionals, parents, and community members,

Today we stood up for the schools Colorado students deserve this fall by delivering a petition to Governor Jared Polis and Colorado Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes, Ph.D, raising the voices of over 13,000 educators, parents, education support professionals, and community members. Together, we demanded school employees’ voices be at the center of the reopening discussions, and safety protocols be provided by our school districts to ensure all students and staff remain healthy. Our expectations that must be met before schools reopen are:

  1. Decisions must involve employee voices. As part of the return to school planning, educators need to be part of the local decision-making about what safety protocols are necessary for schools to re-open. Educators must have the opportunity to vote to either approve or reject return to school plans.
  2. Safety protocols and protections must be provided. PPE and health protocols must be in place for students and staff. While some districts have announced protocols that will require temperatures to be checked and masks to be worn, others are requiring much less. Masks MUST be required. If a local health department is requiring masks in public places, school districts should be required to do the same.
  3. Transparency. Disease data must be available to all families, staff and community members immediately and consistently. Colorado’s open meetings laws must be followed so that the public can participate in the decision making process.
  4. Equity. Students, staff and families must always be provided with equitable access to education and tools, no matter where the learning occurs. 

We know this is just one step in ensuring schools are safe to reopen this fall and it will take all of us, collectively, taking action to ensure our students have the resources and learning environments they need to be healthy and successful. Are you ready to take action? Sign up here and we will let your local know you are ready to demand the schools our students deserve.


Dear Gov. Polis and Commissioner Anthes:

I write to you on behalf of the 39,000 members of the Colorado Education Association and the students we serve regarding the pending reopening of schools across the state. We appreciate your leadership during this extraordinarily difficult time through which we are all living.

The purpose of this letter is to accompany the petition that was signed by more than 13,000 parents, educators and community members and delivered to you earlier today,expressing our concerns about the decisions that are being made without our input to reopen schools in just a few weeks. Many of our local presidents will also be sharing the petition with local school board members and superintendents. Specifically, we are asking that guidance from the state to local school districts include:

  1. The four expectations outlined in our petition and defined below are met prior to reopening schools to in person learning. 
    1. Employee voice;
    2. Proper safety precautions;
    3. Transparency; and 
    4. Equity.
  2. A super majority of employees in a school district vote to approve the district’s restart plan prior to returning to in person learning. 

While educators want nothing more than to safely return to our classrooms and the in-person instruction we all know is irreplaceable to our students, employee voice, proper safety precautions, transparency and equity must be at the center of the decision-making process – not political, economic or corporate interests.

More than 9,800 educators across 122 school districts in Colorado have shared with us their concerns about school and workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the state, educators want a democratic voice in their workplace safety plans. They are willing to join their colleagues in refusing to return to work until the four conditions outlined above are met in order to ensure the safety and health of students and educators.

For years, our chronically underfunded public education system has served as the primary way to balance the state budget. The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already dire situation with our students and public education in Colorado facing a $1.18 billion shortfall next year. As a result, many local districts and communities don’t have the necessary resources or capacity to maintain even the most basic preventative measures of a minimum of six feet for physical distancing, much less the other important preventative actions such as personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and tracing and adequate ventilation and cleaning supplies. If we cannot properly fund our schools in normal times, how will we fund these additional needs?

Educators’ number one priority right now is the same as it has always been: ensuring the physical safety, mental health and overall well-being of our students. Far too many lives are at stake for plans that do not promise the safety of the entire community.

The petition you received today outlines our four expectations that must be met to ensure the health and safety of all students and staff:

  1. Decisions must involve employee voices. As part of the return to school planning, educators need to be part of the local decision-making about what safety protocols are necessary for schools to re-open. Educators must have the opportunity to vote to either approve or reject return to school plans.
  2. Safety protocols and protections must be provided. PPE and health protocols must be in place for students and staff. While some districts have announced protocols that will require temperatures to be checked and masks to be worn, others are requiring much less. Masks MUST be required. If a local health department is requiring masks in public places, school districts should be required to do the same.
  3. Transparency. Disease data must be available to all families, staff and community members immediately and consistently. Colorado’s open meetings laws must be followed so that the public can participate in the decision making process.
  4. Equity. Students, staff and families must always be provided with equitable access to education and tools, no matter where the learning occurs. 

We cannot allow the reopening of schools to be merely a political or economic decision; doing so ignores the voices of education experts – educators and education support professionals. If we cannot ensure that the expectations above are met, we must continue with remote learning protocols. We call on the state to shift its focus toward ensuring that our communities and parents can support a robust remote learning program. The state should provide the structures and safety net to support families in a remote learning environment, including: continuing to provide protection against eviction; extending unemployment benefits, including for those in the gig economy; requiring businesses to provide accommodations for working parents and directing school districts to use their time and resources to ensure that online learning can be provided equitably; and supporting school districts to have a plan to reach out to our most vulnerable students to ensure their academic needs are being met.

We need safe, equitable and well-funded public schools – this is what Colorado’s students deserve.

Sincerely,

Amie Baca-Oehlert

High School Counselor and CEA President