Most everyone online or at the School Committee meeting on Monday night knew to brace themselves when Supt. Priya Tahiliani began talking about the barrage of teacher e-mails sent out last weekend against opening schools, and then she gave a disclaimer for what was about to come.
What came was a biting rebuke from the superintendent that noted the e-mails came mostly from teachers who lived outside of the city, while also noting that the majority of the student population are people of color.
It’s a notion the Everett Teachers Association (ETA) refuted vociferously on Tuesday.
“As a woman of color and as a superintendent who has dedicated to treating all of our families with equal devotion, I felt compelled to share this information after all the feedback I received this weekend,” Tahiliani said.
Tahiliani said she and others on the School Committee received 224 e-mails from teachers giving negative feedback on the plan to return students and teachers to school buildings.
“I did want to bring up the fact that we did disaggregate this data and found that less than one percent – in fact it was 0.01 percent – of this feedback came from our teachers of color,” she said. “Unfortunately this isn’t reflective of our teachers or our student population.”
She indicated that 12 percent of the teaching population are people of color, and 82 percent of the students are people of color.
“Of the 224 e-mails, a mere 10 percent were from people who live in Everett,” she said. “Many, in fact, live in cities and towns where students have already had the opportunity to attend in-person classes.”
She said pointing this out did not indicate she didn’t listen to the concerns in the e-mails, or that the concerns were without merit. She said they had a lot of merit, but she also said she wanted to “be careful about the weight we give to the various considerations before us.”
ETA President Kim Auger said they know the membership has a way to go to reflect the student population, but also felt that the characterization of race in the re-opening argument was not warranted.
“The ETA is aware that our educator population does not yet reflect our student population,” read the statement. “However we believe that all educators no matter race, creed, or sexual identification go above and beyond to support, nurture, encourage and empower all of our Everett students. The ETA knows there is room to grow with equity and diversity in our community. (The superintendent’s) ‘granular’ assessment of messages sent to the School Committee and her office does little to address the real issue of a how do we safely return to in-person learning.
“We are encouraged that COVID-19 rates are dropping in Everett and across the state,” continued the statement. “The infection rate, however, still does not justify a rapid return to full in-person learning. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is bullying communities into reopening schools. Reopening our schools must be a local decision, and the state is making the return unnecessarily chaotic for every school district in the state.
The Everett Teachers Association supports a safe return to the classrooms, recognizing that learning in person is best. However, our community, without pressure from the state, must address all of the health and safety issues that come along with reopening schools. We need strategies for meeting Centers for Disease Control guidelines in classrooms, cafeterias, school buses and all of the places where students and staff will be together. Educators would appreciate it if Superintendent Tahiliani worked to meet the needs of Everett rather than inexplicably endorse misguided policies put forward by state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley and Governor Charlie Baker.” The comments from Tahiliani were the zenith of what has been a budding controversy for several months, with more than 60 percent of parents saying they are ready to send kids back to school. Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of teachers have said in an ETA survey they aren’t ready to go back to school. The intersection of differing thought on the matter is likely to become very well-traveled over the next several weeks as the debate intensifies.