As I talk to members across the state about their experiences during the spring and fall of 2020, one thing is certain: OEA members are working harder than ever to provide a quality education to all students. I am so proud to lead an organization with members who are so dedicated to the health and well-being of students.
Like most people, educators have been severely impacted by COVID-19. OEA members have been reduced in hours and some have had their jobs eliminated due to the closure of school buildings. Others have resigned rather than risk their health and that of their loved ones by returning to their buildings. Students are also feeling the impact. Each day I hear from members how difficult it can be to connect with every student and make sure they have what they need to be successful. What I have not heard, however, is anyone giving up trying. While we navigate our way through this pandemic, it is more important than ever we stand together to protect the health and safety of students and staff. OEA is doing just that. During the summer, OEA advocated for strict methods for return to school, and now Oregon has some of the strictest reopening metrics in the nation. Now, as pressure to reopen buildings intensifies, OEA continues to advocate with the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and the Governor’s office for strict adherence to the metrics they set.
"As a union we can no longer turn a blind eye to the systemic inequities in the education system."
As if transitioning to a completely different modality of education were not enough, the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have shone a bright light on the racial inequality extant in our society, and, as educators, has forced us to take a hard look at our role in addressing it in the school system. Multiple studies, including one published by the National Academy of Sciences, reveal “in comparison with white Americans, black Americans exhibit poorer educational outcomes across a range of metrics.” These metrics include disparate discipline, future employment, and involvement in the criminal justice system. As a union we can no longer turn a blind eye to the systemic inequities in the education system. As OEA leans into its equity stance, I recognize the conversations will not be easy and will often cause discomfort and even anger. Still, for the sake of our students, it is important we continue to highlight and work to change the inequities inherent in the system. As teacher Ethelyn Tumalad puts it in her article in this issue, “All lives will matter when Black Lives Matter.”
Our country is more starkly divided over nearly every issue than at any time I can remember during my lifetime. Educators are certainly not immune to these divisions, but now, more than ever, it is important to stand together to do what is right for our schools and for our students. I’m confident that together, we’ll continue to make powerful strides for our students and communities this year.