Education Justice During the Coronavirus Crisis

Fund Public Schools and Colleges. Stop Budget Cuts and Layoffs. Ensure Equity and Resources in Learning. Cancel Student Debt. Cancel the MCAS. Pass Emergency Paid Sick Days Legislation. Ensure Housing and Food Stability.

Public schools are the last line of defense for so many people in our communities. The global coronavirus emergency is changing how we live our lives every day, and public education is no exception.

There is no normal at the end of this tunnel. We won’t be able to go back to the way things were before. No amount of online resources will be able to replace the in-person learning students are losing this year.

This crisis will worsen educational inequities, cost college students entire semesters, and set students back in their education. The sooner we accept these realities, the better we can plan for how to repair them.

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the major flaws that exist in our educational and economic systems, from the inequity between rich and poor school systems to the housing and food insecurity many families face. These inequities hamper efforts to address the crisis. 

After Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 Recession, students and working class people were left behind by the short-term response and further harmed by the austerity measures that accompanied the long-term response. We can’t let history repeat itself.

We must ensure that solutions center the students, workers, and families who are being harmed the most.

The Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, through our member organizations and hundreds of thousands of members and supporters across the state, call on lawmakers to ensure justice and equity for every student, educator, worker, and family in Massachusetts in all responses to the coronavirus crisis, through the following actions:
Public schools and colleges in Massachusetts are facing massive budget cuts, and we need federal action to provide stimulus funds and stop austerity. We need the U.S. Senate to pass the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion funding bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May to provide major new resources to save our public schools and colleges!
Canceling student debt in response to the Coronavirus crisis will help the 45 million people with student loans and stimulate the economy when it is needed most. It will allow borrowers to purchase the necessities their families depend on: food on their table, a roof over their head, and critical healthcare.
All public schools and colleges must have their budgets maintained at a minimum of FY2020 levels for the duration of the health and economic crisis. The State must commit to fully funding the first year of the Student Opportunity Act. As decisions are made regarding curriculum and online learning, equity and addressing the widening achievement and opportunity gaps caused by online learning must be at the center of any decisions. We can’t allow students in schools with resources and privilege to move ahead while students in schools without resources and privilege fall behind. All college and university students must be allowed to take courses on a “pass or fail” basis. College and university students must not be penalized for lack of access to safe learning conditions, required technology, or comparable and adequate learning accommodations. We must have an open conversation about how the 2020-2021 school year will look different from a normal year and ensure any decisions reflect the harm to students, families, and teachers caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Massachusetts education officials canceled this spring’s MCAS exams, the state’s standardized tests, amid a statewide closure of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is good news for students and families. They should not have to worry about standardized tests on top of concerns about access to food, housing, mental and physical well-being. That’s why more than 6,000 Massachusetts residents contacted state leaders demanding that MCAS be canceled. (The legislature responded by canceling for one year the law that allows for MCAS.) Moving forward, we must also examine the consequences of administering the MCAS in 2021 due to the growth in achievement and opportunity gaps caused by the shift to online learning.
We need the State House and State Senate to pass legislation (SD.2931) to support student borrowers and give adjunct faculty access to health care. This bill would protect borrowers who get loans through the Massachusetts Education Financing Authority (MEFA) by allowing for loan deferment during the state of emergency and make sure that adjunct faculty at our public colleges and universities have access to health insurance.
The required public health response to coronavirus has created an economic emergency for millions of workers, and we need to ensure that families can continue to afford food, housing, and other necessities during this time. All educators – including all full-time, part-time, hourly and per diem workers, including teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and substitute teachers, as well as adjunct and visiting faculty, tutors, students, and graduate students – must be fully paid during this time, without needing to take sick leave, personal time, or paid family and medical leave. Unemployment Benefits should be enhanced to ensure that all workers, regardless of immigration status or tax status (W-2, 1099, etc.) can receive unemployment benefits.
Thanks to strong advocacy of over a 1000 people that reached out to the Governor, an eviction moratorium was enacted in Massachusetts! While this an amazing win, housing and food insecurity are still spiking due to the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus. We need to continue to push for forbearance on foreclosures, rent payments, mortgage payments, utility shutoffs, and ensure safe and stable housing for students displaced by the closure of campus dormitories. Local government programs to provide food to residents, including local public school districts and food pantries, need additional public funding due to increased food insecurity and disruption to food access.
We know that people in Massachusetts detention facilities and prisons — including parents and other family members of kids who need them now — are incredibly vulnerable and at risk during this pandemic. The fear of deportation prevents undocumented people from accessing the resources that they need to survive. We cannot wait for people in our detention facilities and prisons to die before we take action to flatten the curve. State, local and national organizations are calling on our elected officials to move swiftly in passing decarceration legislation, as well as demanding that ICE refrain from detaining and deporting our friends and neighbors during these times.

We also support the full list of policies being advocated for by AFT Massachusetts, Boston Teachers Union, Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice and the Mass UnDocuFund, Massachusetts Teachers Association, and PHENOM.

In Solidarity,

Charlotte Kelly, Executive Director, MEJA

Zac Bears, Executive Director, Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts

Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director, Citizens for Public Schools

Lily Huang, Co-Director, Massachusetts Jobs With Justice

Beth Kontos, President, AFT Massachusetts

Merrie Najimy, President, Massachusetts Teachers Association

Carlos Rojas Alvarez, Director of Education Justice Campaigns, Youth On Board

Jessica Tang, President, Boston Teachers Union