Photo credit: Louis Freedberg / EdSource

Berkeley parents at a rally on Feb. 6 to pressure the district to open schools for personal instruction.

Photo credit: Louis Freedberg / EdSource

Berkeley parents at a rally on Feb. 6 to pressure the district to open schools for personal instruction.

February 10, 2021

E. Toby Boyd has just been elected director of the California Teachers Association, which represents over 300,000 teachers in California, for a second two-year term. Previously, he was a kindergarten teacher in the Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento for 23 years. In an interview with John Fensterwald and Louis Freedberg on EdSources Podcast “This Week In California Education,” he talked about the conditions under which the organization believes teachers should return to school for face-to-face tuition, including whether they should should be vaccinated beforehand. Given CTA’s key role in the school reopening debate, we are reprinting Boyd’s slightly edited remarks below.

EdSource: Governor Newsom has explicitly set out his vaccination policy, stating that it is not necessary to vaccinate all teachers before schools are reopened to at least elementary schools. How do you feel about vaccines?

Boyd: The educators who are in front of the students should be vaccinated and testing should be done to make sure the virus itself does not enter the school. When districts plan an opening, they need to make sure that the educators who stand in front of the classes when they reopen have the vaccine. All of this is done on the assumption that the educator concerned wants the vaccine because it is their personal choice.

CTA President E. Toby Boyd

EdSource: However, in terms of timing, if it’s a two-shot vaccination plus an extra week or two before it goes into effect, we’re really talking about six weeks from the time you get your first shot to the time you get your first shot Back to School you are ready for. So we may speak in mid-April at the earliest.

Boyd: We believe the vaccine is available. We believe it is part of a layered process to mitigate the virus. And that’s important to us.

EdSource: While the CTA made a statement that it would take a hundred days to take security measures, it wasn’t entirely clear what you were up to. Are you saying that teachers shouldn’t go back a hundred days? Do you have a hundred day timeline?

Boyd: The hundred days are intended to allow us to get the pandemic under better control than we are now, especially in the areas where it is higher than others. So it’s a process of saying, “Give us a hundred days so we can make sure we have all the necessary protocols in place – the vaccine, the ventilation, the wearing of the mask. Let’s fix all of this and make sure it’s safe for the students and our staff before we go back to school. “So we just have to make sure we have a plan to do this.

EdSource: Are you saying that teachers and other school staff shouldn’t return for a hundred days? That would of course take us pretty much to the end of the school year. What if the situation improved a hundred days ago, or if it took more than a hundred days for the situation to improve?

Boyd: If the situation improves a hundred days ago and the schools have all the necessary attenuating layers, we can return sooner. But it will take some time before everything is okay. It won’t happen tomorrow. We know it won’t happen within a week. We know the resources will not be there because you will have to purchase the items. You need to make sure there is ventilation. They will make sure the contact tracing and testing is in place. So all of these things have to be planned and it won’t happen within ten days. And so we gave a hundred days. If it’s shorter we will return to the session. But when it takes longer it just gives people time so it isn’t rushed and really can be designed in a very logical, strategic way.

EdSource: But a hundred days would effectively bring you to the end of the school year. Until then we would be in May.

Boyd: We should have planned that in June. And then those hundred days would have no bearing on where we are at that time.

EdSource: The biggest criticism we hear from superintendents – in fact, they all use the same analogy – is that the CTA and the unions keep pushing the goalposts back. You will point out the hundred days, here are another hundred days. Last week all unions tabled a proposal setting out when schools should return. It’s a very detailed plan, part of which says teachers shouldn’t be ordered to go back until it’s yellow, which I hadn’t heard before. Could you respond to this general criticism that you really don’t want to go back and keep changing what the unions are asking or asking for?

Boyd: Our position has always been the same: security. When we started because we didn’t know much about the virus, we went with the experts and walked the path with them. As we learned more about the virus and learned how to weaken this virus, we always said that it was about safety. At first she wore a mask because we thought that was best. And then the experts said no, it has to be mask wearing and social distancing. And every time the experts found that it was necessary to keep it safe, that’s what we wanted. We haven’t changed our goal posts. So we don’t make the decisions because we’re not the experts. We depend on those who know what is wrong with the virus and how it can be mitigated.

EdSource: Why yellow Why wait until there is minimal risk that schools will return?

Boyd: I hope that it will not just turn yellow when we are told to return, that the necessary elements are in place between red and orange, that there are memoranda of agreements or arrangements between the district, the (CTA) association and the community so that they can open up. So the red and orange would be where the work would take place. I don’t see anyone waiting until yellow to say “You have to go back.”

EdSource: The position paper that you and the other unions are issuing does not necessarily represent the position that all of your local affiliates would take. Is that correct?

Boyd: It’s just our recommendations to our members. And it’s just a signpost so they can say, “OK, these are the things that need to be there. Let’s negotiate. Let’s see where we are and understand that our endgame is making sure it is safe for our students and everyone else involved.

EdSource: It seems that we are at a crucial moment, not only in terms of how the pandemic will evolve, but also in terms of the school year. A lot of work has to be done on all sides.

Boyd: But it will happen as long as we work together because one side can’t find the answers and can get things rolling on its own. It has to be a collaboration with all stakeholders involved.

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