To the members of the Sharon community,
We are writing this letter as a few concerned alumni of the Sharon Public School system to support the Sharon Teachers Association in the ongoing labor dispute. Among those of us writing this letter, we have known faculty and support staff at every school building in the district. We have had the privilege to know them as educators, as mentors, and as human beings with hobbies, interests, and personal lives. Knowing that these are exceptionally difficult times, we want very much for current students to have a positive experience with healthy educators and a healthy community. With this letter, we hope to convey to the Sharon community the love that we as alumni have for our teachers and the interest that we all have in ensuring a safe and dignified working environment for them.
Today, Tuesday 9/8/2020, the Sharon School Committee filed a petition with the Massachusetts Labor Relations Board to declare an “illegal work stoppage” because teachers opted to engage in professional development remotely instead of in the school buildings. This is an action which attempts to legally coerce teachers back into classrooms. This condition has not been appropriately bargained for and this action on the part of the School Committee displays a fundamental disrespect for the health and safety of educators. It is within their rights as workers and as human beings to identify dangerous situations and to say no to those situations. The School Committee stated that they “remain committed to an agreement that has teachers in front of children in their classroom starting next week”. This clearly lays out that administration has a conclusion in mind already regardless of the bargaining rights of teachers, regardless of the safety issues around ventilation and PPE that have still not been addressed, and regardless of the evolving situation of COVID-19 clusters at recently reopened colleges, universities, and public schools in other parts of the country.
We should not have to convince anyone that COVID-19 poses a real risk to any individual who contracts it. Any person of any age who falls ill is at a personal risk of severe medical complications including death and near-inevitably will pass on the virus to other people. Classrooms contain large groups of people spending prolonged amounts of time breathing the same recirculated air and such conditions pose an inherent risk for viral transmission. Therefore, the demand for public school teachers to come to school in person is asking them to risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones. This is not a reasonable request. Some of us are currently studying at colleges and universities which have recognized this risk and opted for fully remote instruction. Massachusetts state universities– as well as some of the very top-tier schools that Sharon prides itself on sending students to– have recognized the inherent risk of in-person instruction, and adapted to fully remote learning. Why can’t Sharon schools? The teachers have made it clear that they are willing to put in the extra work to adapt. For that matter, why have parents been given the option to opt out their children from any in-person instruction while teachers are expected to endure this demonstrable threat to their lives without complaint or legal recourse?
We reject any sort of dichotomy between the labor rights of teachers and the “best interests of the kids”. Working conditions are learning conditions. No one works better under psychological or physical stress, and this goes for students and teachers alike. On the level of our experience in the schools, we know we have benefited from having teachers who have a say in their instructional methods and a strong voice in how the schools are run. Our classroom experiences were made richer by the creativity and artistry of experienced educators with the security to ask hard questions of us and of our administration. The strength of our Sharon education rests directly on the strength of the union and the union’s commitment to doing the right thing– that is, not just uncritically doing what is expected, but being prepared to act on their conscience for the safety and wellbeing of themselves and their students. Any infringement on the labor rights of educators is, in our view, a clear detriment to the integrity of the education that students receive. We affirm that there is no possibility of meaningful education without educators being treated as whole people and respected in their professional and personal experiences.
We also ask what current students learn from seeing teachers forced into working in a situation where their very lives are at risk. We implore the community to remember that your children are not going to remain children forever, but will move into society and become workers, parents, members of communities in their own right. Seeing their teachers and school support staff stripped of their labor power and made to sacrifice their physical health for the sake of maintaining someone else’s idea of normal will teach kids that to work, you must sacrifice your own rights, dignity and possibly even your body. We believe that a better world is possible and it starts with the examples we set here.
To the teachers– We know what we have learned from you. In and beyond the classroom, you have stood with us, you have comforted us through petty and major pains, you have acted as voices of strength and reason that live with us for years to come. We have seen firsthand your genuine care for the children we were and for the adults who we are. We stand with you, we have faith in your judgment and your strength, and we are proud to see you acting with bravery and clarity of purpose– acting the way that you taught us to act.
With love, solidarity, and gratitude,
Caroline Lee (SHS class of 2014)
Clint Lee (SHS class of 2017)
Jill Sweetman (SHS class of 2014)
Alex Peltz (SHS class of 2014)
Aynslie D’Avanzo (SHS class of 2014)
ALSO SIGNING ON (in progress. Click here to add your name)