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Black Lives Matter. Special Report: Covid Crisis Election 2020 Coverage August–September 2020 | Vol. 97 | Issue 5 | mea.org
LETTER TO MEMBERS
Standing Together for Everyone’s Safety The last time we shipped you a magazine, we were standing at the edge of the unknown, pledging to get through this trying time together. So much has happened since then. Somehow we’ve come a long way, yet we’re still in new territory. In this issue of the Voice, revisit the ground we’ve covered together since school buildings closed in March, and let’s pledge solidarity to each other again as we move into the next phase of this ever-evolving pandemic. We have many challenges to address, but we’ve accomplished so much. Think about it. In a matter of days, with no warning or preparation, educators from every job category shifted practice in dramatic ways that encouraged student learning and emphasized relationships and community. We’ve banded together to make sure all school employees got paid through the end of the school year and educator voices got included in plans for how to do remote learning. We continue to stand up for what’s right as debate has intensified over reopening schools this fall. We’ve been listening to you, advocating for your needs, and telling your story through a constant barrage of media requests ever since our mid-May survey of member attitudes
Paula J. Herbart President
toward COVID-19 revealed the startling depth and breadth of your concerns.
communities. Local leaders have stood up and banded together to advocate for local priorities.
Our messages: We must listen to frontline educators as we plan, or pay the price in an exodus to the exit doors. We have to heed the data, the science, and the local public health experts. Educators don’t seek special treatment—just the same protections others are afforded.
It’s also why the MEA Board of Directors has empowered us at the state level to back up our locals using every tool in our toolbox.
We need additional funding to avoid massive cuts and maintain school budgets in the face of these unprecedented challenges. We need flexibility for the new year for attendance and days & hours requirements, and we need measures to keep school districts from poaching students or suffering unpredictable enrollment-related drops in funding. You’ve been asked to do more with less for 20 years, even being left to supply your own Kleenex, glue sticks, and snack packs. It wasn’t fair then, and it certainly is not a “norm” we can return to now—with people’s health on the line. You should not be forced to choose between your livelihood and your life. To that end, our union’s more than 1,100 locals are empowered to collectively bargain for plans that keep people safe and make sense for their
Chandra A. Madafferi Vice President
This spring, facing the challenge of distance learning at home, the American public experienced greater appreciation for the work that educators do every day to nurture and guide young people. Our pride and admiration swelled, too. We’ve never been more honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with the dedicated school employees who belong to this union, and we’ve never been more determined to represent your interests with clarity and fortitude. We say again—several months into this unfamiliar territory: Our union is our strength, and you are the union. We will get through this together.
STAY TUNED TO MEA.ORG The situation around reopening of schools amidst COVID-19 is changing daily at both the local and state levels. This issue reflects where things were on our July 31 press deadline. Please visit mea.org for the latest updates.
Brett R. Smith Secretary-Treasurer
MESSA Pullout Section Inside! 4 Editor’s Notebook Change is possible 6 News & Notes Remote teaching PD 20 Election 2020 Fire DeVos 25 Special Report Virtual schools 26 Special Report Higher ed unions 28 Special Report Midland flood
8—MEMBER VOICES: Being an educator means taking advantage of teachable moments.
17—SPECIAL REPORT: Educators across Michigan are engaging in racial justice activism.
34 Member Spotlight An unexpected role
Executive Director����������������������Michael Shoudy Director of Public Affairs������������������� Doug Pratt Editor������������������������������������������������ Brenda Ortega Staff Photographer�������������������������Miriam Garcia Publications Specialist��������������� Shantell Crispin
9—SPECIAL REPORT: Follow a timeline of our surreal spring, starting with school building closures, to a stressed summer of debating how to safely deliver education to students this fall.
The MEA Voice ISSN 1077-4564 is an official publication of the Michigan Education Association, 1216 Kendale Blvd., East Lansing, MI 48823. Opinions stated in the MEA Voice do not necessarily reflect the official position of the MEA unless so identified. Published by Michigan Education Association, Box 2573, East Lansing, MI 48826-2573. Periodicals postage paid at East Lansing and additional mailing offices. Payment of the active membership fee entitles a member to receive the MEA Voice. Of each annual fee whether for active or affiliate membership, $12.93 is for a year’s subscription. Frequency of issue is October, December, February, April and August. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to the MEA Voice, Box 2573, East Lansing, MI 48826-2573 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Allow at least three weeks for change of address to take effect. MEA Voice telephone: 517-332-6551 or 800-292-1934. Circulation this issue: 113,519
22—ELECTION 2020: U.S. Sen. Gary Peters has been a vocal critic of Betsy DeVos.
30—SPECIAL REPORT: Some MEA members are serving two vital roles in the pandemic. MEA VOICE 3
NEWS & NOTES
Editor’s Notebook The Associated Press writing style guide has updated its policy on the word “Black” to capitalize the letter B when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context. Black activists had long called for the change, which you will notice on these pages. The AP Stylebook shift happened—fittingly—on June 19, also known as Juneteenth, an annual commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The AP’s move conveys a “shared sense of history, identity and community among people who identify as Black, including those in the African diaspora and within Africa,” John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president of standards, said. “The lowercase black is a color, not a person.” The AP’s move followed the videotaped police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, but it had been debated by AP style gurus, journalists, and academicians for years. It got me thinking about change and how we all perceive what is possible. Images of Floyd’s shocking murder sparked prolonged protests around the world. But more than that, the terrible cruelty of those nine‑plus minutes moved hearts and minds.
Number of years that the West Ottawa Education Association has been operating a summer Bookmobile—a library on wheels to bring reading to kids. This year, the program got a new bus, thanks to fundraising, community sponsors, and school district support. Members of the local union gave 1,000 hours of labor to sand, paint, and install bookshelves, enough to hold 4,500 books. A grant from NEA purchased books for socialemotional learning. Read the story at mea.org/45-years-of-books.
Polling soon after found a stunning shift in public opinion, with 69 percent of Americans saying Floyd’s killing represents a larger problem in law enforcement—up from 43 percent in 2014. The era of videotaped police brutality against Black Americans began nearly 30 years ago when a bystander captured footage of the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. Since then we’ve seen too many Black people die at the hands of police. Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Stephon Clark. To name just a few of the many. Black activists have engaged in this struggle for decades. The fight is not over, but others are joining the cause and some change is happening. Cities are banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants. Americans are expressing desire to shift money from policing and incarceration to education and supports. It gives me hope for the success of other struggles that feel like David vs. Goliath matchups—such as education unions vs. Betsy DeVos and other billionaire school privatizers, for example. DeVos has used her money and influence to undermine public education for years—especially now as U.S. Education Secretary during a global pandemic. But we have never stopped pushing back, and Americans see DeVos for who and what she is. They’re not buying what she’s selling. So join the struggle. Get involved in your local. Volunteer for a political campaign. Help get out the vote. Give to MEA-PAC. Vote. The struggle has been long, and we’re tired, but at last perhaps the tipping point is here.
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—Brenda Ortega, editor
“The difference between not racist and anti-racist is action. It’s about using your privilege to make a difference for someone else.” MEA member Anthony Barnes, an early-career Kalamazoo special education teacher who served as a panelist on an MEA-sponsored webinar about systemic racism organized by Aspiring Educators of Michigan. Read Barnes’ essay on living life as an educator on page 8.
NEWS & NOTES
Above and Beyond MEA member Ben Henri teaches his vocal music and Quiz Bowl students in Grosse Pointe to celebrate each other’s successes, because “It makes everything that much sweeter,” he says. Last month his lesson came full circle when a group of his students held a watch party to see him compete—and win the $100,000 grand prize—in the Teachers Tournament on the quiz show Jeopardy! They sent him a video of their “post-game freakout.” One boy said he and friends had to walk around the block to release adrenaline. “He said, ‘Mr. Henri, we’ve done concerts and shows, but my heart has never been racing like this before,’” the 2020 Teachers Tournament champion said. Henri grew up watching the show in a family of trivia buffs—his brother was a two-day champion in 2013. Remarkably, 14 of the 15 educator contestants from the tournament remain in touch, and Henri is glad for the extended support system. The global pandemic has revealed the consequences of steadily declining taxes and spending on public services, and he worries about the future of education, he says: “I’m confident in the abilities and stick-to-itiveness of my colleagues. But if teacher compensation isn’t adequate, and if the resources aren’t there for us to reinvent our job in the space of weeks, then it makes it difficult to recruit people and to do our jobs.” Read the story at mea.org/ henri-wins-jeopardy.
ICYMI MEA member Owen Bondono pledged to spend his time as the newest Michigan Teacher of the Year (MTOY) lifting up marginalized voices and working to ensure no children get left behind as schools face the unique challenges of operating amid a global pandemic. Bondono, a ninth-grade English Language Arts teacher from Oak Park’s Freshman Institute, was named the 2020-21 MTOY during a virtual ceremony in July. He is the first known transgender person to hold the title, and Bondono told Chalkbeat he’s hearing that he might be the first in the nation. “Personally my area of focus is always to uplift marginalized voices in our community, both as teachers and for our students,” he said. “As a queer person I know firsthand the harm that can come to marginalized students in schools, and as someone who has made a career now of teaching Black and brown children, I know the harm that they come to every day.” Bondono has led training and organization within his building and district to improve climate and culture surrounding issues of equality and is a facilitator for LGBTQ Student Safe Spaces. He is also a member of the AntiRacist Leadership Institute and Resource Coordination Team. Learn more about Bondono at mea.org/oak-park-mtoy.
“It’s been quite a year.” MEA member Tonya Lambert, a middle school English teacher in Midland, whose quad-level home suffered water damage on three of four floors in May following a dam collapse. Read more about how our union family came together in the aftermath of historic flooding amid a global pandemic, starting on page 28.
MEA VOICE 5
NEWS & NOTES
UPCOMING EVENTS EDITOR’S NOTE: MEA events planned for this school year are subject to change depending on the latest information regarding public health. Watch mea.org and the MEA Facebook page for the latest information.
Higher Education Conference Virtual The conference features sessions covering trends in online learning, intellectual property, higher education funding, member engagement, bargaining, and strategies to help leaders strengthen their local associations.
MEA Winter Conference Marriott Renaissance Center, Detroit At MEA’s biggest conference of the year, members and leaders network and attend training sessions in bargaining, organizing, member advocacy, political action, communications, classroom best practices, and more.
MEA Conference for Aspiring and Early Career Educators MEA Headquarters, East Lansing Aspiring and early career educators will gather to network and train on topics such as classroom management, high-leverage best practices, legal issues, work-life balance, and union involvement.
ESP Conference MEA Headquarters, East Lansing Education support professionals will gather to network and train on topics such as legal issues, ESP certification, privatization, school violence, and member engagement.
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On the Passing of Former MEA President Steven Cook Former MEA President Steven Cook passed away in May after battling a non-COVID-19 illness. He was 63. The longest-serving officer of any NEA state affiliate, Cook was the first education support professional to serve as president of the Michigan’s largest school employee union, serving in that role from 2011-2017. Prior to that, Cook served as the union’s secretary-treasurer and later vice president, totaling 26 years of leadership of MEA and Michigan’s educators. A community-school liaison for the Lansing Public Schools, Cook served as the local president of the Lansing Educational Assistants prior to becoming an MEA state officer. “Steve was a fierce believer in the collective power of both public education and unions to change lives,” said MEA President Paula Herbart. “He was a resolute leader who always stood up for what he believed was right for school employees and students. His loyalty—to both his union and to those lucky enough to call him a friend—was his trademark.” “The labor movement and the cause of public education are both worse off today for losing a champion in Steve Cook.” Cook is survived by his wife, Sarah, and son, Wayne.
Sign up for Free MEA Training on Distance Learning Members in good standing still may be able to sign up for the second half of a summer webinar series on best practices for delivering remote learning opportunities to students. Developed by members in the Ann Arbor Education Association, these colleagueto-colleague sessions feature timely and specific resources that participants will be able to put to immediate use. SCECHs are available for all sessions. Topics include how to effectively use Google classroom, teach math at a distance, differentiate instruction, provide accommodations, and plan a week of remote instruction, among others. This member-led training is brought to you by the MEA Center for Leadership & Learning. To view remaining sessions and register, go to tinyurl.com/MEA-SummerWebinars-2020.
Skip the trip to the pharmacy with Rx home delivery As a MESSA member, you have access to the Express Scripts pharmacy for convenient home delivery of the medications you take regularly, letting you skip a trip to the pharmacy. The benefits of using Express Scripts include home delivery of a threemonth supply of your long-term medications, free standard shipping and 24/7 access to a pharmacist from the privacy of your home.
3 steps to get started with home delivery 1. Log in to your MyMESSA member account. Click the “Rx home delivery” link to register, transfer eligible prescriptions to home delivery and order refills. 2. Contact your doctor. Call your doctor to obtain a new prescription for a 90-day supply of your long-term medications. 3. Register adults covered by your plan. Dependents over 18 need to register with Express Scripts separately at express-scripts. com, and they need to authorize you to view and order prescriptions for them, if desired.
Just like at a retail pharmacy, your standard copayments and deductibles apply. Please note that shortterm medications such as antibiotics must be filled by a local retail pharmacy, and specialty medications must be filled through your local pharmacy or through AllianceRx Walgreens Prime, a specialty home-delivery pharmacy. For questions specific to Express Scripts’ delivery service, call Express Scripts at 800.903.8346 (TTY: 800.876.1089). For any other questions, call our Member Service Center at 800.336.0013 or connect with us online. We’re happy to help.
MEA VOICE 7
Living Life as an Educator By Anthony Barnes Special Education teacher Kalamazoo Public Schools
Being an educator is much more than a job or a career; it is a lifestyle. Living as an educator means that you strive for the betterment of the next generation. This work does not end when we leave our classrooms and the confines of the brick and mortar school buildings. During these uncertain times of economic collapse, global pandemic, and civil unrest, the work we do as educators is of utmost importance. Now is the time for teachers to continue to do the difficult tasks we have chosen to take on: We must lead, inform, take a stand, support, and educate. As a relatively new educator, I often find myself asking how I can accomplish five main objectives (Yes, I formulate my thoughts into objectives; it must be a teacher thing). How can I best serve my students and their families, take a stance, navigate distance learning while supporting my special education students, incorporate anti-racist teaching into everything I do, and keep myself centered. I want to do it all! However, as hard as I try to live this lifestyle I have chosen, the more difficult it becomes. If there is an easy way, I have not found it. Once I admit to myself that I am not superhuman and do not have all the answers, I think about how I can incorporate my five objectives into 8 AUG–SEPT 2020
everyday action, how I can embrace all the teachable moments in life, and how I can support others while seeking support. It is a lot to shoulder, but our best and brightest have been doing it for eternity, and now it is my turn. Our everyday actions define us as human beings and like it or not, as teachers, we have a lot of eyes on us. We have two choices. We can use the spotlight to educate, or we can hide from it. I choose to educate. This means living in teachable moments, taking every opportunity to educate the people around me, and being OK with the discomfort it may bring. It is essential to know that for all educators, this will be different. The way I approach teachable moments is different than how you will, and this is a beautiful thing! Our students need all of us and our uniqueness; diversity is what will allow our students to be well-rounded. For me, living in teachable moments means embracing all parts of my identity, checking my bias, and keeping an open mind while being ready to speak out and educate at any moment. Often, I find myself having teachable moments with the children in my neighborhood, teaching them about the dangers of playing in the street, the types of flowers that grow in my yard, and a lot of interesting facts.
Additionally, teachable moments pop up with my family and friends, typically in a more severe context, such as public health, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ rights. These are not as comfortable or fun, but just as necessary. I have found that when I live in teachable moments and keep myself centered, all of my objectives fall into place without draining too much from my battery. Finally, while living a life of teachable moments and supporting others, it is imperative to be humble and accept support from others and continue to learn. If I do not take support and recognize the importance of learning from the world around me, I have grown weak and weary. Living the teacher lifestyle is a lot to shoulder, but I have built a beautiful network of people in my life who support me and help keep me centered. Without this, I would not be able to achieve any objectives—and my objectives matter because I want to be a part of building a better world for our students, our future. Anthony Barnes is the newest member‑leader of MiNE, the program for Michigan New Educators creating programming, networking, and socializing aimed at supporting early career educators for success in the classroom and leadership in the union. Search for MiNE and connect on social media.
CRISIS TIMELINE From Surreal Spring to Stressed Summer: A Timeline of Tumult and Togetherness March 12
The state ordered the closure of all preK-12 schools—public, private and boarding—beginning Monday, March 16, through Sunday, April 5, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Herbart wrote to members:
“We were pleased to hear Gov. Whitmer’s call for employees to be paid during this closure, and we’re working with school districts and the Legislature to make sure that happens.”
March 13 On this Friday the 13th, school employees in buildings that remained open said goodbye to students not knowing it would be the last in‑person day of the school year. No one yet understood that “remote learning” would become the mode of operation through June. Soon, however, educators from every job classification would step up to act as emotional and physical first responders in communities, bridging the divide between the everyday life of before and the new normal of social distancing, home isolation, and economic shutdown in the COVID-19 era. This day—described as strange, sad and surreal by many—started us down the path to where we find ourselves today.
March 14 MEA President Paula Herbart sent a Saturday morning email communication to members to address concerns and outline the union’s immediate priorities.
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) got immediate permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for schools to continue providing meals to 750,000 Michigan children who depend on eating breakfast and lunch at school.
March 16 Just a couple of days after Whitmer’s school closure announcement, free meal programs were launched across the state in school districts of all sizes. MEA VOICE 9
READ LATER The effort to distribute breakfasts and lunches to any household with children under 18 in the 604-square-mile Alpena Public Schools was dubbed “the largest meals on wheels.” In East Lansing, an increasing number of meals went to families at sites across the city without questions of financial need or school of choice, said ELEA president Tim Akers in March. Some families who couldn’t get to a pickup site received home delivery by school employees. Read more at mea.org/ serve-through-crisis.
QUOTABLE “I’ve had them from preschool to middle school, so for a lot of years I get to know the families and watch the children grow. They’re my kids, and I miss them. It’s been wonderful to have them draw pictures and give me cards and write ‘thank you’ in chalk on the ground.” MEA member Liz Breen (right), a 22-year bus driver in Monroe County’s Jefferson School District, who has been delivering meals across her route and beyond with help from bus aides Sherri Herrera and Tracey Rodey.
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Holt High School biology teacher Lisa Weise helped spark a statewide movement by public educators to equip Michigan’s front line health care workers with protective equipment. Weise’s sister-in-law, a nurse at a metro Detroit hospital, initially asked if Weise’s robotics team could design a face shield to protect those treating infected patients. “As we were talking, it occurred to me another need was for goggles, and I thought, ‘I already have those,’” said Weise, an MEA member and 2004 Michigan Science Teacher of the Year. Weise obtained 100 pairs of goggles from her classroom. Then she started the process of tapping about 600 other First Robotics teams across Michigan to contribute to the cause. Ben Shoemaker, an MEA member and robotics coach in Mason Public Schools, was one of the first to answer the call. Shoemaker, who has access to 3D printers he brought home prior to the statewide closure of school buildings, used the machinery to print face shields for health care workers. “First Robotics is a big problem-solving organization,” the 18-year science and technology teacher said. “It’s an open network for people to communicate, and we always do, so it was natural for people to want to work together and solve problems.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer jumped on a tele-town hall with leaders and members from MEA, AFT Michigan, and AFSCME minutes after announcing her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order for all Michiganders to remain in their homes except to conduct essential business.
QUOTABLE Whitmer told members assembled on the call: “There’s no community that has been greater in its support or more encouraging or stepped up to meet more needs than the education community, and that’s why I wanted to be here to thank you, to share with you the thought process on why these actions are so important now, and just to tell you how much I appreciate you.”
March 31 MEA President Paula Herbart joined a virtual Education Town Hall hosted by state Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown) and Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) to continue advocating for school funding, paying all school employees through the end of the school year, granting full retirement credit for the year, waiving seat time and standardized testing requirements, ensuring graduation and advancement of students, altering teacher evaluations, extending certification deadlines and more.
April 15 April 2
READ LATER The global COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the poverty and systemic inequities responsible for achievement gaps in school performance. In many ways, the public health crisis has worsened the problems. In poor and rural regions of the state, the disparity between technology haves and have-nots has complicated the task of providing remote learning for students. Read about remote learning inequities at mea.org/ serve-through-crisis/#Commitment.
QUOTABLE “This epidemic is going to expose the major issues of funding to schools that many have continuously ignored for years.”
Whitmer signed an executive order closing schools for the remainder of the year and ensuring all school employees would get paid, plus requiring districts to create remote learning plans in consultation with bargaining units.
QUOTABLE Following the announcement and press conference, Whitmer immediately joined another tele-town hall with MEA members and leaders, saying: “I know this is hard, and there’s going to be a lot of questions—what does this look like? How does this work?— but I know that we can navigate this. It’s going to have to be driven by our experts on the front lines, and that’s all of you, and that’s our local leadership.”
MEA member Jessyca Mathews, a Flint-area teacher and social justice activist.
“Just did a live STEM session on Zoom with thirty-some third and fourth graders. We explored the pond at my house. Signing off was like having to get in the van to go home on the last morning of summer camp. I didn’t quite realize the depth of how much I’m missing these kids.” Tweet by MEA member Andy Losik, a teacher in Allegan County’s Hamilton Community Schools, after sparking his elementary students’ enthusiasm with an assignment.
READ NOW In his first engagement with students under his district’s newly formulated remote learning plan, STEM educator Andy Losik assigned students to find their house on Google Maps and create a drawing of their property. Once complete, the drawings would be used to walk the property to look for and document evidence of wildlife living there. “We met on Zoom. I walked around my property and I showed them my pond, and we looked at different areas where we expect the tadpoles are going to start growing and looking for minnows and things like that,” said Losik, the 2009 Michigan Technology Teacher of the Year. Using technology to encourage students to explore and create taps into natural curiosity, he says. Connect with him on Twitter for ideas and inspiration at @mrlosik.
April 9 MDE released its “Learning at a Distance Guidelines.” Largely written by the 10 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year, the guidelines follow five humane and hopeful principles and offer high-quality options and resources for developing a plan for remote instruction under trying conditions. Find the document at tinyurl.com/remoteguidelines. MEA VOICE 11
“I don’t think everybody realized before all of the things that we do for students throughout their day. It’s been important to keep students connected with the understanding that all of the people who care about you are still here. Our librarian is here for you. The principal is here for you. The teachers and paras—all of the adults who care for you—we’re all still here; it’s just a little bit different right now. That provides a sense of stability and comfort.” MEA member Kelly Connell, a paraeducator in a high-needs special education classroom in Lakeview Public Schools in St. Clair Shores.
April 18 MEA’s top three officers, President Paula Herbart, Vice President Chandra Madafferi, and Secretary Treasurer Brett Smith, all won re-election to second three-year terms at MEA’s firstever virtual Representative Assembly (RA), the annual meeting of MEA’s highest governing body.
Teachers at Avondale Academy, a 117-student alternative school in the Detroit suburbs, will be replaced by an educational software program after the Avondale Board of Education voted to restructure the school despite opposition. Read the story on page 25.
READ NOW Like some other MEA members, Patrick Lothrop is playing a dual role in the pandemic. He’s a part-time medical technologist at Beaumont Hospital running tests on lab specimens from COVID-19 patients and others, and he’s a full-time educator in Lapeer who teaches middle schoolers in handson STEM classes such as Medical Detectives. “There’s been a push in the last couple years to say, ‘We don’t need teachers; we can do this all online,” he says. “I say no. Kids need human contact, and they want the chance to do science and engineering directly.” Read the story about Lothrop and other members who straddle the worlds of health and education on page 30.
QUOTABLE Normally an all-day affair that determines policy matters for the year, this year’s abbreviated RA continued in August. The April meeting featured special guest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who addressed delegates with her thanks and encouragement. Elections matter, MEA President Paula Herbart said in her address: “I’m pleased we advocated for and got the commitment to continue paying all school employees for the balance of this school year… It’s safe to say the outcome would have been different with Bill Schuette as governor.” 12 AUG–SEPT 2020
READ LATER MEA member Ashley Calhoun was worried about the ongoing effects of school closures on students and families in Homer, so she took action in the spirit of Albus Dumbledore— beloved headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the seven-book Harry Potter series she loves. Dumbledore tells students in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “We are only as strong as we are united, weak as we are divided.” Calhoun—who played Quidditch at Central Michigan University and competed in the 2014 and 2016 Quidditch World Cup—magically turned her front porch into a giving space. Read more at mea.org/ harry-potter-inspired-teacher.
May 5 Following on the heels of major wins for local school funding in March, local elections saw nearly all funding measures pass amid huge absentee voter turnout. Of 36 local school millage and bond votes on the ballot Tuesday, only two lost. The biggest win of the day was the overwhelming renewal of the Kalamazoo regional enhancement millage, continuing an additional $12.5 million per year for districts in the area.
READ LATER Through one art project, MEA member Julie Durocher found a way both to alleviate stress for those quarantining at home and to help homeless people who lack a safe place to hunker down amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Durocher lined up visual artists in Jackson County—where she is a professional artist and elementary art teacher—who would contribute original work for a downloadable Quarantine Coloring Book benefiting the Jackson Interfaith Shelter. “It was interesting and fun to see what different artists came up with,” Durocher said. “I’m so happy that people are willing to share and give to make this time better for everyone.” Read the full story at mea.org/art-during-quarantine.
QUOTABLE As an elementary school speech and language pathologist in South Lyon, MEA member Katie Bell has found creative ways to do individual lessons, large-group interventions, and meetings for Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), while providing comparable materials for families without digital access. It hasn’t been easy, but she said: “It is really joyous for me sometimes. The kids log on and get everything situated—and remember, these are little kids—and then they see you. And they get a big smile on their face. You have to make it really fun, but they love the interaction, and I’m loving it, too. I get off of there and think, ‘oh my gosh; that was the best part of my week.’”
QUOTABLE “We want the same consideration that Congress gave to businesses— where they said, ‘We wouldn’t want entire communities of businesses to go under’—we want that same consideration for our public schools.” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García on the need for Congress to pass a second COVID-19 stimulus package
May 13 NEA President Lily Eskelsen García was joined by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on a national conference call to action where thousands of NEA members were urged to lobby Congress to send money to states for public education needs.
“It’s been very different; we were part of the decision-making process,” said MEA member Robin Shipkosky, a math professor at Southwestern Michigan College, of union involvement in developing plans for responding to the pandemic. Shipkosky led efforts to organize a faculty union at the college in 2015. Read more about union work at higher education institutions in Michigan on page 26.
May 15 State officials estimate huge pandemicdriven shortfalls in next year’s budget without assistance from the federal government—at a time when schools are facing unprecedented challenges. MEA VOICE 13
May 18 Heavy rains in rural regions north of Midland would eventually lead to the catastrophic collapse of Edenville and Sanford dams—which drained Wixom and Sanford lakes and unleashed a torrent of water on communities downstream. Several dozen MEA members harmed by the 500-year flood event received help from $20,000 in donations to an MEA relief fund.
May 25 The brutal videotaped police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests. Activists called for all Americans to decry the longstanding disproportionate use of police violence against Black people and other people of color as a means of oppression.
Morgan Raether teaches secondary English in the UP’s Houghton County, but she joined a collaborative effort to bring books to younger kids via radio this spring. “Even though it was more geared toward elementary-aged students, and I teach high school, it’s important to do whatever you can for all kids right now as a teacher,” she said. Raether recorded the story, Who Did Patrick’s Homework? on her phone and emailed it to FM 97.7 to air during a daily story-time. The station also archived recordings of educators reading stories from across Copper Country Intermediate School District for a “COVID-19 Kids Page.” Raether— who is English department chair and local union vice president (soon-tobe president)—has been teaching for six years and typically uses a lot of technology in her classroom. But getting kids connected with devices and hotspots has been a challenge for her district, and she misses daily interactions with kids that are the best part of teaching. During remote learning, she set up digital “office hours” to tutor students and gauge their wellness for possible referrals to the school psychologist. Being part of a union meant she had a voice in talks about working conditions, Raether said, noting she has an autoimmune disease that makes her susceptible to COVID-19. Read about the union’s role in advocating for members on page 24.
Surreal. Overwhelming. Indescribable. Talk to MEA members in Midland, Saginaw, and surrounding counties, and you’ll hear those words used repeatedly to try to convey the effects of a 500-year flood event in May which displaced thousands of people and cut a wide swath of destruction through the huge mid-Michigan river valley. They use those same words again to describe the help that arrived from their union and school families—roving work crews, meal deliveries, donations of supplies. “It’s indescribable because you just feel it in your heart,” said MEA member Jill Bischer, a speech and language pathologist in Midland schools who evacuated her home of 26 years shortly before floodwaters broke two area dams. “You try to thank people, but words aren’t enough. Hugs aren’t enough.” Read the story starting on page 28.
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Thousands of members attended a virtual MEA #RedForEd rally, where they heard from U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and State Rep. Sheryl Kennedy about the need for federal help for school funding.
Sen. Peters told rallygoers: “I’m going to be working in a bipartisan way, reaching across the aisle to my colleagues in the Senate to say we need to take action—and we need to move quickly. People need to know there will be resources available to have a strong and vibrant education system as children head back in the fall.” Read more about Peters on page 22.
READ NOW READ LATER Bill Boerman, an MEA member in Holland, started an ambitious greenhouse project last year to teach his middle school students about engineering, design, gardening, and nutrition. Now the project is supplying fresh produce to an area food bank. “I never would have envisioned operating a greenhouse in the middle of a pandemic, but God works in funny ways,” he said. For more of the story, go to mea.org/ greenhouse-feeds-community.
Educators nationwide and across Michigan joined protests, rallies, book clubs, and webinars to engage with the issue of racial injustice in America— and that is important for students to see, says MEA member Aretha Bradley. As a Black woman, she had been aware of the Black Lives Matter movement for many years, but recent events compelled her to learn more and take action. A speech and language pathologist in Southfield Public Schools, Bradley attended a rally in Flint and connected more deeply with the Black Lives Matter message. “I think we all witnessed what happened in Minnesota, and it has awakened us as humans,” she said. Read the story beginning on page 17.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a 25-member Return to School Advisory Council of educators and health experts to identify critical issues that must be addressed, inform the process of returning to school, and ensure a smooth and safe transition back to school.
June 4 MEA released a major statewide survey of more than 15,000 member educators—conducted May 14-22— with findings related to COVID-19’s impact on public education. Health and safety remained at front of mind for educators. One-third said COVID-19 has made them think about leaving the profession or retiring earlier than planned, with 8% saying they were doing so.
QUOTABLE Lansing Waverly’s Barb Knighton—who was named the national Social Studies Teacher of the Year in 2013—was considering her options this summer for retiring earlier than planned. “It’s not something I want to do,” the MEA member told the Lansing State Journal, “but it’s something I’m considering more than I ever would have imagined I would.”
June 1 MEA issued a statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matters protesters and all involved in fighting systemic racism. MEA VOICE 15
June 26 MEA laid out detailed priorities for a safe return to learning, informed by member survey data, which included three key priorities that must be fully addressed for a safe return to school—including investments in equipment and technology to keep students, families, and educators safe; increased investments in staffing and supports to ensure attention for mental and physical health; and focus on the greater financial needs in urban, rural, and high-poverty school districts.
June 29 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative leaders announced a deal to address the Fiscal Year 2020 budget shortfall in part by allocating funds from the federal CARES Act sent to Michigan earlier this year. The deal did nothing to close budget shortfalls expected for next year.
June 30 School districts were required to develop a range of plans for returning students to learning opportunities in the fall, based on the COVID-19 threat level that their particular region is facing at a given time, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in releasing her MI Safe Schools Return to Learning Roadmap.
July 26 July 7 Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced a lawsuit has been filed challenging a rule issued by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos which rerouted millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money to private schools.
QUOTABLE AG Nessel told reporters: “Secretary DeVos has decided to use this public health crisis as another opportunity to advance her personal privatization agenda. Instead of sending relief money to the students most in need as required under the CARES Act, she has abused the Department of Education’s rulemaking power to redirect money to private schools.”
As local leaders worked with districts to negotiate a safe start to the school year, the MEA Board of Directors approved a document outlining MEA’s Five Standards That Must be Met for a Safe Return to School. In part the document states that MEA believes the “strongly recommended” practices for Phase 4 in the MI Safe Schools Roadmap must be in place.
QUOTABLE MEA President Paula Herbart: “If—after going through proper channels within our union—a local makes the difficult decision to withhold services because it isn’t safe to return, MEA will be there with those members, demanding that employers make the health and safety of our students and our members the top priority.”
July 10 President Donald Trump tweeted, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos echoed that dangerous and simplistic message, telling governors: “School[s] must reopen, they must be fully operational.”
READ LATER “So what is the union doing for you? What the union always does, which is representing your voice, your communication, your feelings about your own situation and about the kids. We make it a better place for everybody. The union can’t prevent a worldwide pandemic; let’s get real. But what the union can do is help us through it, and we certainly have been doing that on overdrive since March 13, when we had about seven hours to pack up everything and leave the school.” Dave Gott, president of the local union in Haslett and a 24-year educator and band director. Read the full story of how the union has worked to lift educator voices in planning for a safe return to learning at mea.org/safety-at-forefront.
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ISSUES & ADVOCACY
Educators Engage in Racial Justice Movement For MEA member Lisa Watkins, the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement speaks to important and personal issues for her as a mother, grandmother and associate preschool teacher in Ypsilanti —concerns she believes every educator should seek to know and address.
She wants to protest our nation’s long history of police brutality and racial bias. But she worries about her susceptibility to the deadly COVID-19 virus amid a global pandemic that also has disproportionately affected Black Americans and other people of color.
“Educators are helping raise Black lives,” said the mother of four and grandmother of nine. “We want our children to succeed and be able to make it in life, and some of that comes from us. We need to be educated about the issues, so we can help protect our babies.”
“I have underlying health issues, and I really don’t go out of the house,” she said. “I follow the protests. I post them on my Facebook. I’m just concerned about my health; otherwise I’d probably be doing more.”
Yet Watkins has been unable to attend any local Black Lives Matter marches, rallies, or protests in recent weeks, because the 56-year-old is caught between two crises.
Black Lives Matter marches have been organized in cities large and small across Michigan in the past four weeks, following the horrific videotaped police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
Thousands of educators nationwide have joined in the current wave of activism. Floyd’s murder at the hands of four officers recalls painful memories for Watkins of her children’s father being beaten by police before he died several years ago. She worries about the future for her grandchildren and students. “I love my babies,” the 24‑year veteran educator says.
Standing United For 30 years, MEA member Prasad Venugopal has been involved in peace, labor and racial justice activism, but something feels different about this moment in the Black Lives Matter movement, he says.
MEA VOICE 17
ISSUES & ADVOCACY
years, but recent events compelled her to learn more and take action. A speech and language pathologist in Southfield Public Schools, Bradley attended a rally in Flint and connected more deeply with the Black Lives Matter message. “I think we all witnessed what happened in Minnesota, and it has awakened us as humans,” she said. Lisa Watkins
“I feel hopeful about it, seeing how many young people are out there, how they are self-organizing, and how diverse that crowd is—particularly the number of white youth,” the 22-year associate professor of physics at University of Detroit Mercy said. An immigrant from India three decades ago, Venugopal attended a rally in his community of Ferndale on May 31 and returned for another with his wife and children a week later. “Young people see this contradiction between how much violence we’re inflicting on one side and at the same time how we’re neglecting the kind of social uplift programs that we need, such as health care and education. The system is broken down, and so they go on the streets.” It’s important for students to see educators engaging around issues of racial injustice, says MEA member Aretha Bradley. As a Black woman, she had been aware of the Black Lives Matter movement for many
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“We’re not only talking about law enforcement. It’s opened up racial dialogue that we are so hesitant to have but that has to happen. It has to happen. And hopefully that will lead to some positive outcomes across the whole diaspora of us as human beings.” MEA member Mandy Clearwaters gave several of her elementary art students in Kalamazoo a chance to be heard after downtown business owners boarded up store fronts. The children made art on the plywood to communicate their ideas about racial equality, fairness and togetherness—and CBS News showed up to cover it. One 11-year-old artist painted a scene of a Black man enjoying a walk in nature with the message “We matter” alongside. Darek J. Roberts told CBS News that he wanted people to see “the beauty of Black people and nature and how we can share it peacefully.” Another young artist painted a half white and half black canvas over his spot on the plywood to center a black-white yin-yang with his messages straddling both colors: “Stand United” and “Can’t have white without Black.”
For MEA member Jessyca Mathews, the participation of white educators in racial justice activism is crucial. An English teacher at Flint’s Carman Ainsworth High School, Mathews issued social media appeals for white colleagues to speak out for the sake of Black students. “They see and are processing your silence,” Mathews said on Facebook. “They know what it translates to when you hide while Black folks die… Step up. They need to know you are an ally.”
White Educators and Black Lives White educators shouldn’t feel it’s their job to step in and save the day, said Vikki Kasperek, a special education teacher in Van Buren Public Schools who attended Black Lives Matter marches in Detroit and Romulus. “The most important thing I have learned about this issue is that as a white person, it is my duty to support and to listen,” Kasperek said. “This is not my time to try to fix things but to wait for my marching orders—to do the work that needs to be done.” Educators are “essential workers” in the fight against racism because of their unique role in society, says MEA member Robert Lurie, whose nearly 40-year career in Lansing’s Waverly Community Schools has focused on engaging and empowering students as involved global citizens. In early June, Lurie organized a large contingent of educators from across
ISSUES & ADVOCACY
mid-Michigan who joined a NAACPsponsored Black Lives Matter march to the Capitol, where a rally was held. Our Black and brown students need to see educators standing up on this issue, he said.
is 60 percent Black. The district brought in an outside firm to guide discussions about how to address the problem, Telesford said.
Beyond the Marches
“I’ve been teaching at the school for 11 years, and we’ve never in my time there had some of the conversations we’re having now about white privilege, about inclusivity, about reasons students choose to take more challenging classes that have nothing to do with their ability, about the role of parents and culture.”
virtual “Educators for Racial Justice” gathering, held via Zoom and livestreamed on YouTube.
Dialogue around race is hard, but frameworks help, says MEA member Maurice Telesford.
MEA as a Social Justice Advocate
Making Your Voice Heard
Educators should understand and teach historical factors that contribute to institutional racism which still exists today, said Maurice Telesford, a chemistry and physics teacher at Ferndale High School and president of his local education association.
Other MEA members are learning by discussing books on racial justice, including many who filled a digital summer book study with SCECH credits through MEA’s Center for Leadership & Learning.
MEA member Nick Peruski didn’t always think of himself as “the protesting type,” but increasingly he’s found himself moved to “make my voice heard and fight for the rights of others” over the past few years, he said.
“We are calling on other actors in our society to do better, and we should. But we must do better, too, and this starts through listening, learning, changing and acting,” Lurie said.
But educators can’t tackle such huge societal problems without training and resources, he added. “I’m a Black man, and I’m not trained to work in this space. It’s a very sensitive, uncomfortable space, so I think it needs to be pinned more on the education system.” Recruiting more educators of color would bring a wider array of voices to the table and encourage more diverse perspectives to be represented. As of now, “The pipeline just doesn’t exist, and I think that change has to come from the state or federal level,” Telesford said. In Ferndale, more than 85 percent of students in Honors and AP classes are white, although the student body
Keep up on the latest professional development offerings from MEA by searching for and joining the Facebook group called Michigan Education Association Center for Leadership and Learning. MEA’s leadership is committed to exploring and addressing systemic racism, including how it has existed in unionism and public schools, said MEA President Paula Herbart, who participated in a recent MEA webinar on the subject organized by Aspiring Educators of Michigan (AEM).
On an impulse, he and a friend drove to Washington, D.C., for a Black Lives Matter march and rally involving an estimated 200,000 people, which he described as “one of the most inspiring events that I have ever attended.” “Everyone deserves equal access to opportunity and respect, and I will fight to ensure that happens however I am able to do so. We are all humans, deserving of love, and we need to remember that there is more that unites us than divides us.”
“We are committed to working hard and to asking people of color what they need from us and how they can best lead our organization in this work,” Herbart told attendees at the
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Our Chance to Fire Betsy DeVos It is a deeply partisan time in Michigan and across the country. But, across partisan lines, MEA’s members have experienced why U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is the wrong person for the job. The outcome of this fall’s presidential election will determine if DeVos continues her push to privatize public schools from the nation’s top education post—or if we can have new leadership from a qualified educator in the Department of Education. Since becoming the Secretary of Education—after Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the tiebreaking vote in the closest Senate confirmation vote ever for a Cabinet secretary—DeVos has run roughshod over the cherished institution of public education:
Pushing voucher programs—even in the pandemic Her brazen scheme to take $50 billion from public schools for voucher programs pre-dates COVID-19. Since then, she’s used the crisis to continue pushing her agenda, using federal coronavirus-relief funds to create a $180 million voucher program for private and religious schools and ordering states to redistribute their CARES Act funds to private schools.1
Funneling money to for‑profit charters Not surprisingly, given her long history of support for the for-profit charter industry, DeVos has done 20 AUG–SEPT 2020
Lifelong Republican educator Cathy Boote had strong words for her West Michigan neighbor, Betsy DeVos, in an NEA video released earlier this year, saying she “doesn’t have the background that qualifies her to be a Secretary of Education, and she has really harmed that system.” Watch the video and learn more at mea.org/FireDeVos. nothing to stem the tide of federal money charters get despite zero guarantee of quality, accountability or transparency. A 2019 report showed about $1 billion in taxpayer dollars have been wasted on more than 1,000 charter schools that never opened, or opened and then closed because of mismanagement or other reasons—including millions to 63 Michigan charters that never opened.2
Putting for‑profit lenders ahead of students trying to pay their loans Under DeVos, 99 percent of applications to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program were denied from May 2018 through May 2019, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Since then, she has consistently sided with for-profit lenders over student borrowers, even having been sued for continuing to garnish wages for loan payments during the pandemic, in violation of the federal CARES Act.3
Fewer protections for sexual assault victims and LGBTQ students Weakened DOE rules under Title IX protecting sexual assault and harassment victims drew a lawsuit earlier this year from 18 state attorneys general, including Michigan’s Dana Nessel. And DeVos’s Education Department is nine times less likely than the Obama administration to take action on Title IX complaints related to sexual orientation or gender—no surprise given the 2017 DOE reversal of protections for transgender students.4 It’s time for a change at the Department of Education—and that starts with electing Vice President Joe Biden as the next President of the United States. Learn more at mea.org/FireDeVos. 1. EDUCATIONVOTES.NEA.ORG & NYTIMES.COM 2. NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION & WASHINGTONPOST.COM 3. GAO.GOV & POLITICO.COM 4. MLIVE.COM & CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS.
Candidate Comparison Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump Which candidate is better for public education and students? The facts speak for themselves.
Education Funding Biden
Believes in fully funding public education
Public education is not a priority
Biden’s K–12 plan invests more than $800 billion to triple Title I funding for schools in low-income areas; fully funds the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to serve special needs students; and doubles the number of mental health professionals in schools. He backs community schools, which provide health services, job training, and language supports to students and their families.
The Trump Administration’s FY 2021 budget proposed to cut education by nearly 8 percent, while dedicating $5 billion in tax credits to private school vouchers. Their proposal would shift 29 education grant programs— including the federal after school program, educator recruitment and retention, and community schools—into block grants with no guarantee that schools and students who need those programs would have access to them.
COMMITTEE FOR A RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET, 1/4/20
CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS, 2/11/20, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
Secretary of Education Biden
Says Betsy DeVos is unqualified
Supported DeVos from day one
Biden said as president, “the first thing I will do is make sure that the secretary of education is not Betsy DeVos, it is a teacher.” He believes “it’s really important that we have someone who’s actually been in the classroom … and include educators in the making of policy.”
Trump nominated DeVos, an ardent supporter of private school vouchers, as his Secretary of Education, calling her “brilliant and passionate” and pledging that together they would “reform the U.S. education system.” Vice President Pence cinched her confirmation, breaking a tie in the Senate following a contentious all-night hearing.
CNN, 7/5/19, NEA INTERVIEW, 11/6/19
THE HILL, 11/23/16
Union Rights Biden
Supports every worker’s right to organize
Opposes unions and the rights of workers
Biden “believes the federal government should not only defend workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively, but also encourage collective bargaining.”
Trump supports “decreased labor protections, rolled back worker safety, and weakened federal unions,” and his administration has sought to challenge workers’ rights across federal agencies. DeVos has expressed hostility toward educator unions, calling them “defenders of the status quo.”
As president, he plans to make it easier for all workers to unionize and supports educators being able to bargain for better pay and benefits in addition to having a voice in decisions that affect their students.
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Sen. Gary Peters deserves your support for re-election “Our public schools cannot be a casualty of COVID.” Those words from U.S. Sen. Gary Peters—during a May virtual rally for federal education funding to help avoid pandemic-driven cuts—encapsulate why he is MEA’s recommended candidate for Senate this fall. A graduate of public schools and the son of a Rochester educator, Peters has served Michigan in the State Legislature and the U.S. House and always been a steadfast supporter of public education. Throughout this pandemic, his work in the U.S. Senate has been focused on working across the aisle to get help for his state, including critical support for workers and students. During his six years in the Senate, he’s also been a consistent opponent to fellow Michigander, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and her anti-public education agenda.
Peters voted against DeVos’ confirmation in 2017 and has been standing up to her ever since, including her lack of transparency on federal funding for failed charter schools. “Rather than giving students choices, each charter school that closed or failed to open meant that communities missed out on more than half a billion dollars in resources that could have benefitted neighborhood schools,” Peters said in 2019. “As Secretary of Education, I expect you to put students first and ensure that Michigan families’ hard-earned tax dollars are being used appropriately. But, your Department’s stunning lack of oversight of this charter school program has instead left students and their families worse off.” By contrast, Peters’ opponent, businessman and failed 2018
Senate candidate John James, has praised DeVos, saying she’s doing a “very, very good” job, according to JohnJamesRevealed.com, a site dedicated to sharing the truth about James and his record. The DeVos family has rewarded James for his support by spending nearly a million dollars to prop him up—making him one of their top candidates this cycle. Six members of the DeVos family were the only contributors of donations totaling $800,000 to the Better Future MI Fund which formed on Oct. 31 last year with a focus on unseating Peters, according to the super PAC’s first campaign filing on Jan. 31.
MEAVotes.org—One stop for all your Election 2020 needs Find recommended candidates, get a ballot to Vote From Home, and give to PAC Now online at MEAVotes.org, you can search for MEA recommended candidates in your area and apply for a ballot to Vote From Home—plus give money to MEA-PAC to help elect friends of public education.
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The recommended candidate search allows you to enter your address and find a listing of pro-public education candidates, as recommended by MEA members serving on Screening & Recommending committees. These members interview
candidates regarding their positions on education and labor issues and vote locally to make recommendations. MEA’s full listing of recommended candidates is updated regularly at MEAVotes.org as local S&Rs
Control of Michigan Supreme Court in the balance this November MEA recommends McCormack and Welch for election to the bench
For the first time in over a decade, the partisan divide on the Michigan Supreme Court hangs in the balance with an open seat up for election in November. Justice Stephen Markman, a Republican-nominated judge who’s been on the Court since 1999, is prevented from running for another term due to judicial age restrictions in the state Constitution. That means only one incumbent, Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, will be on the ballot this fall. While partisan rancor on the Court has been minimized since McCormack—a Democratic nominee—became chief justice in 2019, the rare open seat makes the Michigan Supreme Court a race to watch this fall.
are finalized throughout the election season. Also on the site, you can get information to Vote From Home under new Michigan rules—an important option available to every Michigan voter who may not want to physically go to the polls during this pandemic. On MEAVotes.org, you can apply online to receive a ballot or
Earlier this year, MEA’s Statewide Screening & Recommending Committee voted to recommend Chief Justice McCormack and Grand Rapids attorney Elizabeth Welch for election to the two seats up in November. McCormack has served on the Michigan Supreme Court since 2013. Prior to her time on the bench, she was a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, where she taught criminal law and legal ethics, and oversaw the school’s clinical programs. During her time on the Court, she has ruled on a variety of important cases for public education, including writing the opinion in favor of individual school districts’ ability to restrict the carry of guns in schools, and voting to return the 3 percent of school employees’
download an application to return to your local clerk. You can even register for email updates so you know when your application was received by your clerk, when a ballot is sent to you, and when your completed ballot is received by the clerk for counting on Election Day. And, as previously, MEAVotes.org is where MEA members can give
salary unconstitutionally withheld in 2010-12. Welch is an employment law attorney who has run her own practice the past 16 years helping employers understand and follow laws governing wages and hours, leave practices, employee contracts and negotiations, and more. She has been a staunch supporter of public education throughout her career, including seven years of service on the East Grand Rapids Board of Education and many years of helping parents to advocate for strong public schools for their students and communities. The current balance of the court is four GOP-nominated justices vs. three Democratic. Two 8-year terms are up for election every two years.
online to help MEA-PAC and the NEA Fund elect friends of public education. Dues dollars cannot be contributed to candidates, so we rely on voluntary PAC contributions to ensure we continue the momentum from our 2018 election victories. At the site, you can make a one‑time contribution or sign up for recurring monthly contributions.
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Another Reason Why Unions Matter: Safety As president of the Grandville Education Association, Blake Mazurek knows that in normal times many members of his local union don’t notice what he and the leadership team do to bargain contracts, advocate for members, and navigate challenges. But everyone paid attention when he started working alongside administrators trying to hash out details for a safe return to learning this fall. Grandville is located in the suburbs of Grand Rapids, which has been a COVID-19 hotspot in the state.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer offered school districts guidance in the form of requirements, strong recommendations, and general recommendations for safety and health protocols in the MI Safe Schools Return to Learning Roadmap. The governor’s plan was released in late June—a short time before President Donald Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos began indiscriminately threatening to withdraw federal funding to schools that do not reopen buildings full-time for all students. At the same
and we won’t,” said MEA President Paula Herbart in a video released last month. “If school districts are keeping you and your members out of the process, making decisions about returning to school that don’t include you, and are ignoring you at the bargaining table, then they’ll see us in court.”
“We’ve ALWAYS been essential!” The questions around schooling during a global pandemic are numerous, complex and varied across regions and districts, and no solution is without drawbacks, Mazurek noted. “I want my members to know that everything I’m doing is because of them, and without their membership I can’t do what I’m doing,” he said. In July, Mazurek surveyed members, sent a report to administrators, and read a powerful statement to the school board—later posted to the union’s Facebook page—urging school leaders to follow the “guiding star” of scientific guidelines and expert health advice for plans being developed. “We are now called ‘Essential Workers,’ but I argue that we’ve ALWAYS been essential!” he read to the board. “It is incumbent upon us all to speak loud and clear with a voice of unmistakable conviction that our students and staff are not expendable.” 24 AUG–SEPT 2020
time, COVID-19 case numbers had begun an alarming surge in many parts of the country. MEA’s statewide survey of 15,000 members conducted in May revealed health and safety issues topped the list of educators’ worries. Nearly one-third of respondents said they were considering retiring early or leaving the profession because of safety concerns. The survey data was shared with news media, and based on the results MEA issued its priorities for schools’ potential reopening, including increased funding; expert-driven standards for preventing and responding to COVID-19 outbreaks; emphasis on students’ well-being over standardized test scores; and investments in safety supplies and technology. “If medical experts say it’s not safe for us to return to buildings to teach students face-to-face, then we can’t
Collective bargaining is more important than ever, said Amy UrbanowskiNowak, president of the Birch Run Education Association in Saginaw County. Educators have been underfunded and disrespected for too long, and many are saying ‘Enough is enough,’ she added. “These are the times to get active in our union; these are the times to use our collective voices; these are the times to use the law to guide us through troubling times; these are the times to bond together and say, ‘What can we do to get over this hump and preserve this profession?’” Read the full story at mea.org/ safety-at-forefront.
Virtual Schools Seek Digital ‘Foot in Door’ Kathy Bommarito worries that a decision this spring by the Avondale School District where she is union president could represent a foot in the door for online school vendors seeking to displace educators in the classroom. In May the Avondale School Board agreed to close Avondale Academy—named Michigan’s Alternative School of the Year in 2018—and replace it with a fully online virtual academy operated by an outside vendor starting this fall. “At the board meeting, the guy from the online company was presenting and he said, ‘Oh, we could educate your honor students. We could educate your career STEM students. We do this and this,’” Bommarito said. “That’s AEA positions he’s talking about.” In Avondale, as in many districts across the state, teachers at the alternative high school were not part of the Avondale Education Association before all seven were laid off following the board’s 5-2 vote approving a virtual school. Had they been a part of the union, those educators would have been able to rely on a process for layoff and recall that protected their rights, said Jake Louks, an MEA organizer who helps non-union K-12 and higher education school employees through the process of unionizing. Many AEA members showed support for their non-union colleagues at the academy by calling parents from the school to raise their voices,
attending the virtual meeting, signing a petition to save the academy, and testifying before the board. Paul Sandy, one of the seven laid-off teachers, fought hard against the district’s move. Because research shows virtual schools are not as effective as a credentialed educator in a classroom, technology should be a supplement to education—not a method for disinvestment, he said. “Betsy DeVos and other edu-profiteers are foaming at the mouth thinking of how to use these solutions during this pandemic to cut costs on the most vulnerable students,” Sandy said. The global COVID-19 crisis has been used by vendors of online education resources as a huge marketing opportunity, despite there being little to no evidence of their effectiveness, according to a literature review by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice. Numerous studies have shown high turnover and dismal student achievement and graduation rates at virtual schools, yet blatant profiteering with little to no legislative oversight has been the norm, the Great Lakes Center found. “Tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have decided monetizing children’s education is good business,” the Center’s review found. For those reasons, the Utica Education Association got involved quickly at the first sign the district was exploring the possibility of using a poorly rated outside vendor to
provide curriculum for online learning necessitated by the pandemic. After parents joined with the local union to express disapproval of the idea, the district and UEA leaders came to an agreement for Utica educators to create the virtual learning environment. “We are deeply grateful for the support we have received from our parent community and are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Utica schools to do the best thing for Utica kids, and to be the best stewards of our children’s learning,” UEA President Liza Parkinson said. Not surprisingly, online schools operated by traditional public schools tend to have better results than those operated for profit, the Great Lakes Center found.
Legislative Watch A series of Republican-sponsored “Return to Learn” bills which passed the state House contain a variety of concerning measures, including one that would run counter to collective bargaining law to allow outsourcing of instructional staff for any virtual classes. At press time, the GOP package had not passed the state Senate. For the latest information, stay tuned to www.mea.org and sign up to receive our legislative e-newsletter, Capitol Comments, at mea.org/signup.
MEA VOICE 25
Higher Ed Unions ‘Building
In February, Martin McDonough became president of one of MEA’s largest local units—the Administrative Professional Association (APA) at Michigan State University. The next month, pandemic-related closures hit higher education in Michigan.
concluded just last November. Then a new president, Dr. Joe Odenwald, was appointed to start in January. As it turns out, Odenwald has worked closely with the association to solve problems, a welcome departure from the previous president who preferred top-down communication, Shipkosky said.
Formerly a shop steward in the pipefitters union and vice-president of the APA, McDonough knew that in times of crisis people feel especially grateful for the union. “A lot of members appreciate that someone is there and listening, but most important is that somebody is asking.” How’s it going? What do you need? Can I help? McDonough worked to understand various viewpoints of 2,000 members in more than 150 job classifications, which helped when bargaining a recent letter of agreement to protect members’ rights during possible furloughs. The union also intervened when members expressed concern that new safety procedures weren’t being followed, for example. For weeks, the notifications on his phone were dinging all day long, he said, with members sharing concerns, questions, and gratitude. The way he sees it—a union during a crisis is like a team working together to build a bridge over a chasm that they all need to cross over safely. “I had a gentleman today, and he’s a member but he’s never stepped
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“From day one, Joe has had numerous meetings with us and included leadership from our newly formed association in decision-making.”
forward before, and he said, ‘I’m thankful I have a union. Let me know where I can help.’ And I just wrote him back, ‘We will most certainly be getting you involved, because that’s what a union is all about.’” Robin Shipkosky has been a math professor at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac for 10 years, but when coronavirus spread caused her institution to switch to fully online learning, she didn’t know how things would play out. So many parts of the equation were unknown. The faculty union—which Shipkosky helped organize—had only existed at the college for five years. Bargaining the current contract lasted 18 months, went to fact-finding, and
Meanwhile, faculty and students have stepped up to meet the challenges, with instructors adapting course delivery and assignments for a virtual environment and students reaching out for one-on-one digital tutoring and office hours as needed, Shipkosky said. “The attitude has been to say, ‘This is the situation we have. How are we going to be successful with what we’ve been given?’ And that comes within a paradigm shift we’ve seen from our new president, which says, ‘Administrators are here to support faculty.’” In addition, the contract approved in November after a long, contentious bargain includes a new clause requiring a payout based on years of service if jobs are eliminated. “The feeling from everybody I talk to is that it’s good to have a contract that spells out those details,” she added.
a Bridge Over a Chasm’
At Central Michigan University, faculty union leaders immediately began fielding questions about how the sudden shift to online teaching would affect evaluations and tenure, said Marcia Mackey, a professor in sports management and aquatics and a representative on the CMU faculty association’s board of directors.
online, the executive team decided to use $10,000 in savings for one-time grants to adjunct faculty. Another $1,000 was donated to a student emergency fund at the college. Any part-time faculty member in good standing was eligible, and 33 grants were ultimately issued at just more than $300 each.
“We were in meetings with administration addressing those things very quickly,” Mackey said. In particular, members were concerned about Student Opinion Surveys (SOS) being included in evaluations. The anonymous questionnaires filled out by students at the end of a course would not be a fair representation of an instructor’s skills since the shift from in-person to online teaching happened so quickly without preparation. “The administration agreed with the faculty association that this year we would make the SOS scores optional, so faculty could choose to put it in or not put it in.”
to books or internet, tutoring in off hours, and posting videos of class sessions so students with work obligations or poor internet access could catch up. “This has been disruptive for faculty and students, and everybody is trying their best,” she said.
Other members were concerned about completing requirements for tenure review within deadlines since access to research labs had been cut off by building closures. “At this campus we were fortunate to have people from both sides willing to talk and say, ‘We need to address this.’”
At Schoolcraft College in Livonia, the faculty association includes adjunct instructors, and the union leadership wanted to extend some extra help to those part-time employees when the pandemic hit, said Treasurer Michelle Randall, an accounting professor at the college.
Faculty members have gone out of their way to help students, Mackey said, helping them figure out access
In addition to advocating for the college to provide instructors training and support for moving instruction
“We wanted to get it in their hands quickly and have it available to them to use how they needed to,” Randall said. “They could use it for food; they could use it for rent or transportation. They could use it for IT tools to teach online. Whatever they needed.” Many thanks came in from adjuncts who often work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet, Randall said. She quoted an emailed note from MEA member Tamara Wrone, who holds a PhD and teaches Biological Sciences: I appreciate the faculty forum looking out for us SC part-timers. Currently, I teach at three institutions to make ends meet. If I lose any one of their incomes in the near future, I will be financially crippled, so I very much appreciate this grant going directly to my emergency fund. “That kind of sums up the whole situation,” Randall said.
MEA VOICE 27
Harmed by Historic Flood, Helped by Union Family Surreal. Overwhelming. Indescribable. Talk to MEA members in Midland, Saginaw, and surrounding counties, and you’ll hear those words used repeatedly to try to convey the effects of a 500-year flood event in May which displaced thousands of people and cut a wide swath of destruction through the huge mid-Michigan river valley. They use those same words again to describe the help that arrived from their union and school families— roving work crews, meal deliveries, donations of supplies. “It’s indescribable because you just feel it in your heart,” said MEA member Jill Bischer, a speech and language pathologist in Midland schools who evacuated her home of 26 years shortly before floodwaters broke two area dams. “You try to thank people, but words aren’t enough. Hugs aren’t enough.” The rushing waters thrashed heavy items—including large exercise equipment—from one end of the basement to another. Important mementos and personal items stored in bins, such as her 19-year-old son’s diploma, awards, cap and gown—“almost everything”—was lost. “We maybe saved a couple of things from down there, like 1%,” Bischer added. 28 AUG–SEPT 2020
Crews of helpers—teacher colleagues and their spouses, among others—showed up with food and equipment, including large tents to set up for shade in the yard, to haul out belongings from other parts of the house that needed cleanup. “They just took over,” Bischer said. “They said, ‘You don’t worry about anything. We’re moving forward,’ and they were itching to get in.” A photography buff, Bischer had written off boxes of wet and muddy pictures as trash, but her helpers— knowing the importance of her hobby—dipped the prints in distilled water and laid them out on dozens of sheets spread on the lawn for drying things. Bischer is one of several dozen MEA members harmed by the flooding who have begun a long recovery process—many without flood insurance coverage to help with rebuilding. Nearly $20,000 in assistance has been distributed from donations that rolled into an MEA relief fund. Suddenly, the COVID-19 pandemic took a backseat to more immediate concerns, said paraeducator Rhonda Sturgeon, president of the support staff union in Meridian Public Schools. The district is located in Sanford, a small community devastated by the collapse of Sanford dam. Besides handing out meals, Sturgeon also helped her teacher friend— MEA member Sarah Larges—develop an idea for selling a “Sanford strong” t-shirt to benefit the
Meridian school district’s relief fund for families hurt by the flood. As a 20-year English teacher and longtime track coach in Sanford, Larges had many connections to get the word out. Still, she didn’t expect to sell close to 1,000 shirts in a few days. “Securing funds so my students’ basic needs are met—that’s my wheelhouse,” Larges said. “I’ve always been a major advocate when we do other programs at school, such as Christmastime or adopt-a-family, and I just really work to make sure those needs are met. “That’s why I’m doing it. This money is going to benefit kids and families in my community. I love them, and I tell them I do. They know I love them.” The devastation that so many families in Sanford have endured led MEA member Jolynn Lippie to create a Facebook page to reunite people with a huge variety of items lost in the floods—from vehicles to furniture to photographs, and her story was featured on the local television station. Similarly, in nearby Swan Valley School District in Saginaw County, the local union has been finding and organizing donations of items for families in need after the floods, said Gina Wilson, president of the local education association. Efforts have also involved members helping members by cleaning out homes, donating money and
Jerry Lombardo and Mark Hackbarth
supplies, and housing colleagues who evacuated or lost homes. “We’ve had several members affected by the flood, and our community as a whole is experiencing a vast amount of devastation,” Wilson said. In Midland, where the high school was used as an emergency shelter, the local president received a call for help from the superintendent who was left shorthanded by a lack of Red Cross volunteers amid the pandemic. “I emailed my members and said, ‘Anybody that can come to Midland High to help, let’s go,’” Midland City EA President Mark Hackbarth said. “And then my wife and I went over there and did what we could all day. Most of the people there were elderly—evacuated from a senior living facility right on the river in downtown Midland.” The next day and for days after, Hackbarth coordinated volunteers by setting up and monitoring a Google form where members could ask for help and another where members could offer donations and services.
One-quarter of the town was flooded and 30 members from his local suffered damage, Hackbarth said, “ranging from flooded basements, to basement walls collapsing, to losing a cottage that was on one of the lakes, to having a home condemned. It’s a big range in terms of what we’ve lost.” One of the houses where Hackbarth helped to tear out floors destroyed by floodwaters belonged to MEA member Tonya Lambert, a middle school English teacher who was making dinner when evacuation orders were announced for her area. She had 15 minutes to grab clothes and get out. Lambert lives in a quad-level home where three of the four floors were damaged by water. A neighbor kayaked into the area the next day and shared photos of the scene to Lambert’s shock. Then it was time to get to work, she said. “There were moments of tears, and moments of ‘We can do this,’ and then there were moments of ‘Well, this has to get done.’ Somehow
you find energy you didn’t know you had.” Up to 20 teachers and spouses showed up over the next few days to haul out furniture and appliances, among other hard work, she said. “My union president actually tore up my beautiful cherry wood kitchen floor. My coworkers and their spouses—some I’d never met— were tearing up carpet, pulling out drywall. It was dirty, filthy, grueling, unpleasant work, and they did it for hours on end.” Indeed, the first half of 2020 has presented unprecedented challenges, and it’s good to have a union family in these times, said Jerry Lombardo, chair of the 12-B Coordinating Council, which includes Midland, Meridian, and several other districts. “It’s been amazing to see all the different ways that members are helping their colleagues,” said Lombardo, a middle school special education teacher. “I think that’s been the biggest thing about the union through all of this—it allows people to feel they’re not alone.” MEA VOICE 29
Two Worlds, Big Hearts: Some Educators Work in Health Care, Too Patrick Lothrop—Lapeer Community Schools
Beverly Banks—Alpena C
When middle school science teacher Patrick Lothrop ran a weekly Zoom class meeting during remote learning last spring, his students asked how he was feeling. Was he busy? Staying safe?
MEA member Beverly Banks got creative to finish teaching two hands-on nursing classes that she already had under way at Alpena Community College (ACC) when buildings on campus closed in March.
Lothrop works part-time as a health care worker and full-time as a teacher at the Center for Innovation in Lapeer. In his job as a medical technologist at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Lothrop runs laboratory tests on patient blood and bodily fluid samples. As an educator he teaches middle school science and engineering, including an elective course called Medical Detectives. He explains to students the work he does and safety precautions he takes every day. “I’m honest with them. I say, ‘Yeah, I worry when I go to work sometimes. Yes, I’ve got the mask on; I’ve got the gloves; I’ve got the gown, but I still worry when I go to work.’” Under normal circumstances, students in Lothrop’s Medical Detectives class study the human body and DNA to learn how to measure and interpret vital signs, diagnose disease, and solve “crime scene” mysteries through hands-on projects.
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Students plate bacteria, grow it, and do antibiotic studies on it. Lothrop brings in blood samples to spin down and show the components of blood. The goal is to teach problemsolving—a critical skill in life and the lab—by drawing on kids’ interest in real-world applications. “A medical technologist has to problem-solve,” he said. “When results look abnormal, I have to determine whether they’re accurate or not to be able to give out to the doctor. And I have to look at all these different formulas in my head to determine if the specimen is valid or not.” Lothrop was a scientist before he was a teacher. He’s been an educator for 20 years and currently serves as treasurer of the Lapeer Education Association. With school buildings closed in the spring, Lothrop and his teaching colleagues did their best to educate students with engineering design challenges they could do using materials at home. He admits the classes are difficult to replicate on the computer. “There’s been a push in the last couple years to say, ‘We don’t need teachers; we can do this all online,’” he said. “I say no. Kids need human contact and they want the chance to do science and engineering directly.”
A registered nurse and full-time senior faculty member at the college, Banks was teaching classes for students at both ends of the experience spectrum when spread of the novel coronavirus led the state’s higher education institutions to switch all classes to distance learning. One of Banks’ classes that changed midstream featured beginner basics, such as handwashing and medications, for students just starting to take nursing classes. The other class was the final step for seniors before clinical experience and graduation. “Some of the things that I had to teach them in the higher functioning lab was mock codes and what to do in emergency situations,” she said. Normally the students would practice and demonstrate advanced knowledge using training mannequins. Now the only people in close proximity to the dummy patient would be Banks
Some MEA members work both in education and health care. They offer a unique perspective on teaching, learning, and appreciation for front-line caregivers in the age of COVID-19.
Community College and a couple of family-member assistants. With help from ACC’s IT department, Banks established a video feed with four camera angles so students could direct the people on-site. “We were just an extension of their hands,” she said. Beginner students similarly were able to watch Banks demonstrate techniques from multiple angles before repeating back her actions while she watched on video. Fortunately, students have all the equipment and materials they need in lab bags purchased at the beginning of the class. Learning to be a nurse involves practice, individual redirection, and more practice. “The beauty of an educator is being able to assess, and it truthfully goes hand-in-hand with nursing. All of my patients aren’t the same, and neither are my students.” Banks uses humor to show what’s not taught in textbooks. “You need to have a little bit of fun, because what we do is not always a graceful job. Nurses are supposed to make it better, so I don’t mind being a goofball if it makes somebody happy and it makes somebody laugh.”
Tim Nelson—Ontonagon Area School District MEA member Tim Nelson demonstrates what educators and health care workers have in common—big hearts. In his 21st year of teaching social studies and English in Ontonagon, in the northwest corner of the Upper Peninsula, Nelson decided to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). He took the training last fall and began working on-call shifts on an ambulance in November. “There was a need, and it’s a way to help out the community,” Nelson said. Little did he know as he took on this new role, the COVID-19 pandemic would soon upend lives around the globe—even in the farthest reaches of the UP. “It’s always on your mind, whether you’re on an ambulance call or at the grocery store,” he said. A big worry surrounding the virus is the dearth of rural hospitals with Intensive Care Units and adequate Emergency Room beds to handle a big surge of patients, he said. The one hospital in Ontonagon County has three ER beds and no ICU. The county to the east has no ICU, and the same is true two counties to the north. He enjoys being an educator and EMT for similar reasons: no
two days are the same, and he helps people improve. Last spring, Nelson used Google classroom to stay connected to his Ontonagon High School students. Some received paper packets in lieu of digital access. He noticed parents posting kind words about educators on social media after discovering the difficulties of home schooling. He also appreciated caring gestures toward health care workers, such as hearts in windows and offers of free coffee for first responders. “I take pride in both jobs, and it’s been great to see the support for my colleagues in both professions,” he said. “It is a little disappointing that we need a crisis to be appreciated, but it’s awfully nice to see people reaching out with kind words and actions throughout our great state.”
MEA VOICE 31
MESSA extends free online and telehealth visits through Dec. 31 MESSA is here for you. We know this health crisis isn’t over, and we know that a lot of our members are worried about going back to work when the school year starts. We want to do all we can to support you and your health. One way we’re doing that is by providing 100% free coverage for telehealth visits with in-network providers through the end of 2020. That means no deductible, no copayment and no coinsurance for virtual medical and mental health visits through Dec. 31, 2020.
smartphone, tablet or computer through MESSA’s partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more info and to get started, visit messa.org/ onlinevisits.
We truly believe that you deserve exceptional health benefits and unmatched personal service—and this one way for us to show it.
• Telehealth with current provider: MESSA will fully cover telehealth and online appointments with members’ current in-network doctors and therapists using their providers’ existing telehealth platforms.
There are two ways to access this benefit:
Additionally, MESSA will continue to fully cover all medically necessary testing and treatment for COVID-19. That is our commitment to you.
• Online Visits: MESSA members and their covered dependents can visit a doctor or a mental health therapist using a
We at MESSA believe in those of you who care for our kids, our schools and our communities, and we are grateful for the work you do.
By Ross Wilson, MESSA Executive Director
Classifieds Our ad policy, rates and schedule can be found online at mea.org/voice.
32 AUG–SEPT 2020
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Chuck Waldroup signed up to be a bus mechanic seven years ago with Inland Lakes School District, but to his surprise a driver shortage placed him behind the wheel in a permanent second role. What was your reaction to unexpectedly becoming a bus driver? I thought it was going to be a nightmare with kids misbehaving, and from riding with somebody else to learn the route a couple times, I picked up some kids’ names because they were the mischievous ones. Then after about a week and a half I thought, the only kids on here that I know their names are the kids that get in trouble, and that’s not right. So I looked at the stops and looked through PowerSchool and started calling every kid as they got on and off by name. So once you connect on a personal level with them, you find out some kids are from less fortunate families and stuff like that. Then you can figure out how to treat them for their behavior. What works best for misbehavior? Talking to them like they’re human beings. Not looking down your nose at them, which is easy to do as an adult, because you think, I know more than they do. They need to listen to me. They need to respect me. But we have to respect them, too. What else do you do to connect with your kids? I’ll talk to them when we’re driving down the road. I dress up for Halloween. I try to dress up for all the holidays. I’ve got a leprechaun thing I wear for St. Patrick’s Day and Santa hats. Last year I put on bunny ears and whiskers that I made, and I made my own cottontail for Easter, and I give them little treats. Last day of school I give them something. Just try to make the ride more enjoyable and they behave better that way.
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How many kids are on your bus? And what ages?
Why do you say that that’s a bonus?
I think we’re about one of the only schools that actually buses preschoolers. So I have from four-yearolds to eighteen-year-olds. And my route is one of the fuller routes. I run on average 60 kids a day. Sometimes up to 75, 76? My route is—mileage-wise—about 35 miles, and my bus is the last one in every day. We leave school at about eight minutes after 3, and I get back at 4:30.
Because I at least get to see a couple of the kids. And you stand six to eight feet away, but you get to talk to them and it makes them happy. I still give them treats. I buy stuff myself, and coming up the union donated funds and we’re putting goodie bags together to say, “We miss you,” from the teachers and the aides and the bus drivers. The bags will have a puzzle and some wildflower seed packets and a candy treat for each kid.
What have you been doing during the coronavirus building closures? I’ve stayed busy doing the repairs on the buses that I can’t normally do when we’re running. And then on the bonus side, being at the school, I get to help with food distribution for the kids every Wednesday.
I love that you initially thought you didn’t want to be a driver, and then you missed it when that part of your job temporarily went away. It’s weird because you get used to the kids and it’s like a big family. Like I said, there’s the less fortunate ones. I always try to help them out and try not to be obvious about it more than the other kids. A lot of them live far away from anyone. I worry because these kids that were already going through not the best situation in life, when they have to sit at home it makes it even harder for them. I’m just glad if I can help. I’m sure they appreciate it, too. Like I said, I’m going on three years of driving the route and when I first started, some of the kids, you couldn’t get them to behave for nothing. And now those kids, because I would sit and talk to them, are some of the best-behaved ones on the bus. I don’t have any rowdy kids on the bus anymore at all.
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ONLINE VISITS ARE FREE THROUGH 2020 Because we care To help ensure our members can receive the care they need while continuing to stay safe during this ongoing crisis, MESSA is providing 100% free coverage for telehealth visits with in-network providers through the end of 2020.
Visit a doctor or therapist on your smartphone or computer You and your covered family members can see and talk to: â€˘
A doctor for minor illness such as a cold, flu or sore throat.
A behavioral health clinician or psychiatrist to work through mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression.
Learn more and get started at messa.org/onlinevisits.