Summer Newsletter

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LFT members are coming together to protect students and staff from COVID-19!

 

RESOURCES AND POLICY

Since schools closed on March 13th, LFT, AFT and your Local affiliate have been working to protect the health and safety of Louisiana’s educators. We immediately began to collect resources to help families impacted by COVID-19 and find clarity around policy and regulatory issues given our new reality. With the help of our dedicated members, LFT petitioned local authorities to suspend provisions of the law related to school performance scores, district performance scores, state testing, educational accountability measures, course standards, minimum work days for staff and more. We pushed BESE and the LDOE to apply to the United States Department of Education for a waiver from student assessment related requirements in the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan.
 
Moreover, LFT hosted an exclusive Town Hall where members were able to hear directly from AFT President Weingarten and Governor John Bel Edwards about the future of education in a COVID-19 world.
 

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

As it became clear that masks would help deter the spread of the virus, LFT worked with national partners to secure 35,000 disposable protective face masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for teachers and support staff across the state. Locals have partnered with their individual school districts and city governments to make sure teachers and students have access to hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
 
This is a start, but we still have not gotten reassurance from all of our Local school districts that teachers, support employees and students will have all the PPE they’ll need when school resumes later this summer.
 

TASK FORCE

As part of our work to ensure the safety of teachers, support staff and students, LFT President Larry Carter served on the Governor’s Resilient Louisiana Commission K-12 Subgroup with representatives from the Louisiana Department of Education and the Louisiana Department of Health.
 
That work lead directly to the release of the Strong Start 2020 Guidelines, but it became clear that guidelines alone would not ensure health and safety in our schools. Without regulatory authority, the LDOE would not be able to mandate that Local school districts follow science-based safety protocols. Thankfully, we were able to institute regulatory authority legislatively:
 

LEGISLATION

All across the country, school officials are working to pass legislation that would shield them from lawsuits in the event that their employees or students were to contract COVID-19 at school. In Louisiana, this effort took form in House Bill 59, which was introduced at the request of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
 
The original intent of this legislation was to protect economically disadvantaged school districts from frivolous lawsuits that could bankrupt the system, but it provided far reaching immunity to school boards (and later we saw the addition of colleagues/universities, charter schools and private schools) without ensuring protections for educators and students in our schools. Unfortunately, in some school districts, too many educators feel that the only way they could be sure that the district would prioritize their health and safety is if officials faced the possibility of a lawsuit. Meanwhile the Louisiana Department of Education was working on safety guidelines for reopening schools, but did not have the regulatory authority to enforce these policies in the individual districts.
 
In mid-June, LFT coordinated with LAE to encourage thousands of teachers and support employees to write to their representatives and ask that they amend or oppose HB 59 in order to ensure the safety of teachers, school employees, and above all: students. At the Capitol, LFT was clear — Louisiana's school doors should only reopen if districts can ensure every measure possible is in place to protect the lives of our children and the adults who serve them.
 
Because so many of you wrote to your legislators demanding action, LFT was able to negotiate multiple amendments in the House, which limited the scope of liability for Higher Education Governing Bodies and school boards for policy violations, gross negligence or wanton/reckless misconduct.
 
In the Senate, LFT worked closely with Senator Cleo Fields to amend the bill which require BESE and the college governing boards to adopt minimum safety standards for all Local Education Authorities in Louisiana. These standards will be “informed” by guidelines set out by the Center for Disease Control and shall be adopted by July 15, 2020. Once established, school boards will have the ability to institute more stringent safety protocols should they choose, but they will not be allowed to do anything less. This presents employees and other stakeholders with two opportunities to have input: when BESE sets the minimum policies for the governing bodies to follow and when the local governing bodies sets their own policy.
 
These additional amendments were very controversial in the House and ultimately not accepted until the final minutes of the session on Tuesday, June 30th. To see a more detailed timeline and analysis of the amendments, click here.
 
Because of HB 59, Louisiana is now one of only a handful of states that will institute mandatory, state-wide school safety protocols to combat COVID-19. This wouldn't have been possible without Representative Buddy Mincey Jr. who worked diligently to balance the different needs of school boards, teachers, parents and students. LFT will continue to work to ensure that the standards laid out by BESE and our college governing boards utilize every possible measure to protect students and the adults who serve them.
 

FUNDING SAFETY PROTOCOLS

Last week, the LDOE started the process of determining what schools will look like next year by releasing their Strong Start 2020 Guidelines and in the coming weeks, BESE will issue mandatory safety guidelines for schools. However, there is still one major question that lingers over then entire discussion: how will local school districts fund the additional safety precautions? That is why LFT and AFT have spent months pushing the Senate to pass the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act). If passed, the HEROES Act would provide Louisiana with $1.5 billion in education funding for public K-12 and public colleges and universities. As cases of COVID-19 continue to surge, this legislation is only becoming more important.
 
  • Then, call 1-833-868-8109 to automatically be connected with one of Senators so that you can leave a voicemail asking them to pass the HEROES Act.
 

WHAT ARE YOUR CONCERNS

Have you had a chance to review the LDOE Strong Start 2020 Guidelines? Have you been involved in your local district’s plan to reopen schools? What do you think about the different safety protocols? Do you think schools should reopen at all?
 
We want to hear what you think! If you are a teacher, support employee, parent, student or just a concerned citizen, please take this brief survey.

Please respond to the survey by 8am on Friday, July 10th.

 

THE FIRST PLAN

As states, school boards, and administrators rush to put out reopening plans in the final weeks of summer, it’s important to reflect on the last four months. When schools closed in March, AFT immediately began to think about the enormous task of reopening them again safely. In April, AFT launched a landmark plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities which drew guidance from the best available science. Since then, many other governments and organizations have drawn from this plan in establishing their own guidelines and practices.