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The school year is fully underway, and every day I see evidence of your masterful work with students despite ongoing challenges. I am so proud of all of you.

As educators continue to bring their students back into the world of in-person instruction while minimizing risks associated with COVID-19, it’s important to acknowledge that the pandemic has had secondary effects upon our schools that are becoming more pronounced. Looming among these is a growing teacher shortage, as we have seen a record number of resignations and retirements related to the stress of teaching during the pandemic. A June survey of NEA members showed that nearly a third planned to leave the profession earlier than expected because of the pandemic. In addition, many districts are finding it extremely difficult to hire enough substitutes to meet a need exacerbated by COVID and a
shrinking pool of available subs.

One way to help turn that around is to continue to ensure that our schools remain safe, and to increase educator and public confidence in that fact. It’s vital that we maintain the safety standards we have implemented during the pandemic and not enable outbreaks by lowering our guard. Vaccinations, with religious and medical exemptions, remain critical to stemming the tide. It’s unfortunate that scientifically and medically approved safety measures like vaccines and masks have become a political football, instead of being universally recognized as the lifesaving measures they are. The data is irrefutable. In fact, a recent CDC report shows that schools without mask mandates are 3.5 times as likely to experience COVID outbreaks as those that have them. It’s also important to remember that implementation of the statewide vaccine mandate is subject to local collective bargaining.

While many rightfully called educators heroes during the past year and a half, a small but vocal minority have tried to demonize us for our efforts to keep students and each other safe. These attacks have been amplified by the same media figures who question vaccines, masks and other measures that have proved effective in stemming the COVID-19 tide.

While polling shows the public still strongly stands behind educators and public schools, these ongoing attacks take a toll. In the recent failed gubernatorial recall, at least four of the major candidates opposing Governor Newsom supported school vouchers, which would take funding away from public education to send students to private schools. Touted as “school choice,” school vouchers deflect resources public schools need to ensure all California students get the education they deserve. Instead of supporting public schools, voucher schemes abandon them.

The recall defeat doesn’t mean the voucher issue is dead. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to stand together and to stand strong. Educators speaking with one voice are a force to be reckoned with. Just as we’ve stood together for a safe return to classrooms, we must stand for schools to have the resources they need, and beat back efforts to privatize one of California’s oldest and most valuable resources: our public schools. Our students continue to count on us, and as CTA members have already demonstrated, we’re up to the challenge.

E. Toby Boyd

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