E. Toby Boyd was just elected to a second two-year term to head up the California Teachers Association, representing over 300,000 teachers in California. He was formerly a kindergarten teacher for 23 years in Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento. In an interview with John Fensterwald and Louis Freedberg on EdSource’s podcast “This Week in California Education,” he talked about under what conditions the organization believes teachers should return to school for in-person instruction, including whether they should be vaccinated before doing so. Because of CTA’s key role in the school reopening debate, we are reprinting Boyd’s lightly edited remarks below.
EdSource: Gov. Gavin Newsom has made explicit his policy on vaccinations and said that it’s not necessary to vaccinate all teachers before reopening schools for at least elementary schools? What’s your position on vaccines?
Boyd: The educators who are in front of students right now should be vaccinated, and there should be testing taking place to make sure that the virus itself is not entering the school site. If districts are going to plan on opening, they need to make sure that the educators who are going to be in front of the classes when they reopen have the vaccine. All this is done on the presumption that the educator involved will want to have the vaccine, because it’s their personal choice.
EdSource: But in terms of timing, if it’s a two-shot vaccination plus an additional week or two before it takes effect, we’re really talking about six weeks from the time that you get your first shot to the time that you’re ready to go back to school. So we’re talking about maybe mid-April at the earliest.
Boyd: We feel that the vaccine is available. We feel that it is part of a multilayered process in order to mitigate the virus. And so that is important to us.
EdSource: The CTA did put out a statement about a need for a hundred days to put safety measures in place, but it wasn’t totally clear what you had in mind. Are you saying teachers shouldn’t go back for a hundred days? Do you have a hundred-day timeline?
Boyd: The hundred days is to allow us to get the pandemic under control better than what it is right now, especially in those areas where it is higher than others. So it’s a process in which we say, “give us a hundred days so that we can make sure we have all the necessary protocols in place — the vaccine, the ventilation, the mask wearing. Let’s get all that in place, and make sure that it’s safe for students and for our employees before we get back into school.” So it’s just making sure that we have a plan in place in order to do so.
EdSource: Are you saying that teachers and other school staff shouldn’t go back for a hundred days? That would obviously would take us pretty much to the end of the school year. What if things were to improve before a hundred days or if it takes longer than a hundred days for things to improve?
Boyd: If things improve before a hundred days and if schools have all the necessary mitigating layers in place, then we can get back faster. But it’s going to take some time in order to get everything in place. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. We know that it’s not going to happen within a week. We know the resources aren’t going to be there because you’re going to have to purchase the items. You’re going to have to make sure that the ventilation is in place. You’re going to make sure that the contact tracing and the testing is in place. So all those things have to be planned out and it’s not going to happen within ten days. And so we gave a hundred days. If it’s shorter, then yes, we’ll get back into session. But if it takes longer, it just gives people time, so it’s not rushed and it can be truly mapped out in a very logical, strategic way,
EdSource: But a hundred days would effectively take you to the end of the school year. We’d be in May by then.
Boyd: We should have been planning for this back in June. And then that hundred days would not be affecting where we are at this time.
EdSource: The biggest criticism we hear from superintendents — in fact, everyone uses the same analogy — is that the CTA and the unions are always moving the goal posts back. They’ll point to the hundred days as, here it is, another hundred days. Last week, all the unions came with a proposal which stipulates when schools should go back. It’s a very detailed plan, one part of which says that teachers should not be ordered to go back until it’s yellow, which I hadn’t heard before. Could you respond to that general criticism that you really don’t want to go back, and you’re constantly changing what the unions are requesting or requiring?
Boyd: Our position has always been the same: safety. When we first started out, because we didn’t know much about the virus, we were going with the experts, and we were going down the path with them. So when we learned more about the virus, when we learned how to mitigate this virus, we’ve always stated that it’s about safety. At first, it was mask wearing because that’s what we thought was the best. And then the experts said no, it has to be mask wearing and social distancing. And so every time the experts stated that this is what’s needed in order to ensure safety, that’s what we were going for. We haven’t changed our goal posts. So it’s not us making the decisions, because we’re not the experts. We’re dependent upon those people who know what’s going on with the virus and how to mitigate it.
EdSource: Why yellow? Why wait until the minimum risk to order schools to go back?
Boyd: I’m hoping that it wouldn’t come down to just yellow when we are told to go back, that in between the red and the orange there would be the necessary items in place, that there will be memoranda of understandings or agreements between the district, the (CTA) association and the community, so they would be able to open. So the red and the orange would be where the work would be occurring. I don’t see anyone waiting until that time, until yellow, to say “you have to go back.”
EdSource: The position paper that you and the other unions put out doesn’t necessarily represent the position that all your local affiliates would adopt. Is that correct?
Boyd: It’s just our recommendations for our members. And it’s just a guidepost in order for them to say, “OK, these are the things that need to be in place. Let’s negotiate. Let’s see where we are, understanding that our end game is to make sure it’s safe for our students and everyone else involved.
EdSource: It seems like we are at a pivotal moment, not only in terms of the evolution of the pandemic, but also in terms of the school year. A lot of work will have to be done all sides.
Boyd: But it will happen as long as we do that work together, because one side can not come up with answers and get things rolling by themselves. It has to be a collaborative effort with all the stakeholders involved.
* Story originally published by EdSource.