Only When it’s Safe: Supporting Teachers in Organizing for a Safe Start to School

August 21, 2020

Over the last five and a half months, MassCOSH has provided COVID-19 health and safety training to almost 600 workers across the state from industries ranging from community health to restaurants and small businesses. On August 6, MassCOSH brought its expertise to over 100 members of the American Federation of Teachers, Massachusetts (AFT-MA) who are facing the prospect of a hazardous workplace: schools filled with students and staff during a pandemic.

With many faults, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s “Initial Fall Reopening Guidance,” fails to address one of the key routes of exposure for SARS-CoV-2: airborne transmission of aerosol droplets. This form of exposure is particularly prominent indoors, and cloth face masks, social distancing, and handwashing don’t guarantee protection.  MassCOSH and AFT-MA know too well that indoor air quality was an issue before COVID-19.  In Boston, only a small percentage of the school buildings have HVAC systems, and even fewer meet minimum recommendations for air ventilation or adequate air filtration.

MassCOSH’s training for the union included AFT-MA leaders and presidents of locals. MassCOSH shared the data and science MassCOSH has amassed from decades of working in schools to help their members bargain for a safe return to in-person teaching. The training stressed the importance of organizing and educating its members to create the solidarity that will be needed to prevent powerful political forces from making teachers compromise their health and safety. MassCOSH helped participants learn how to conduct hazard assessments, how to rate ventilation systems/air quality, and other skills, they need to effectively draw attention to workplace dangers and make demands that their employers will have difficulty refuting.

Stopping the needless spread of COVID-19 will help teachers and the public return to normal as soon as possible.  Until that time, MassCOSH stands with AFT-MA, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Boston Teachers Union in calling for all-remote start to school.  #Onlywhenitssafe.