BTU Members Pass Vote of No Confidence in Superintendent Cassellius

Members of the Boston Teachers Union have overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in Boston Public Schools superintendent Brenda Cassellius through a motion brought from the floor of a membership meeting.

The floor vote was affirmed by a 97.5% margin during an emergency membership meeting this evening. It comes on the heels of the superintendent’s refusal to formally extend equal and uniform safety provisions as those which have been in place at four BPS schools that are currently open, to the 28 additional schools slated to open on Monday morning.

Despite the lack of formalized and equal protections across schools, BTU educators also affirmed that those educators assigned to in-person teaching responsibilities would be reporting to buildings Monday morning.

“We will proudly be there for our high-needs students when they arrive at schools in the morning, but it is very disheartening that the superintendent has refused to officially ensure equitable and uniform safety provisions and instructional practices at the additional schools slated for reopening on Monday,” said Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang. “Our educators, as always, are doing their part to ensure our students have what they need for safety and for quality instruction, whether learning in-person or remotely. We are simply asking that the superintendent do her part, as well.”

The union did not seek a single additional provision with regard to safety, instruction, or staffing issues covering 28 schools, but merely sought the same provisions that were formally agreed to by the superintendent for the first four schools that were opened.

BTU educators and parents have long advocated for and supported a return to in-person learning for high-needs students, as well as early education students, and have pressed the superintendent for a comprehensive plan that would ensure safety, equity, and transparency regarding what the conditions and timeline would be for a return to additional buildings in order to support students in greatest need of in person learning.

Less than one month ago, on November 15, BTU educators and parents reached an agreement with the Boston Public Schools that put important, basic, common sense protections for safety, staffing, and learning in place at four schools that the Boston Teachers Union had supported opening to prioritize the needs of our highest-need students.

However, educators reported at an emergency meeting on Sunday evening that they were “shocked” and “saddened” that, for reasons that remain unclear, Superintendent Cassellius was refusing to formally extend those same protections to the additional 28 schools slated for opening Monday. Furthermore, despite claims to the contrary, she would not even meet with the BTU to explain why she would not extend those same provisions.

At the emergency meeting, educators confirmed a resolution that had been passed at a prior meeting to move the vote of no confidence in the event that the superintendent denied educators at the 28 schools the same and equal rights and provisions as had been formalized for the four schools that opened first. These provisions were created to ensure not just safety for students, educators and the larger community, but also to ensure improved instruction and staffing.

 Since the beginning of the pandemic, the BTU community has advocated to BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius for these important, common sense reopening provisions in Boston Public Schools such as:

• Prioritizing in-person learning for special education students, particularly those who cannot access remote learning

• Safe ventilation and air quality standards

• Vents in bathrooms and working sinks with soap for handwashing

• A scheduling process that takes into account pre-existing medical conditions of educators and their families

• PPE for educators, nurses and staff working with students who cannot socially distance or wear masks

• Access to COVID-19 testing

These key provisions were at last agreed to with the Superintendent in November for the initial four schools that were reopened with our support for some of our highest-need students. Prior to the vote of no confidence, the union had passed a resolution calling for the same safety, instructional, and staffing provisions that exist at the four currently open schools to be extended to the 28 additional schools where staff and students will be present on Monday.

“We all know these safety, staffing, and instructional provisions should have been agreed to earlier so that families would have had more notice and clarity on reopening conditions – and so that we possibly could have returned to in-person learning even sooner. It was clear that COVID-19 rates, tragically, were bound to rise due to the federal government’s negligent bungling of the pandemic – and a failure by Governor Baker to take key steps that would have helped to curb the spread in Massachusetts, particularly in recent weeks. 

The provisions reflected in the prior November 15 agreement are practical, student-centered, and essential to keeping our communities and school buildings safe and ensuring the highest quality of instruction for all students. There is no logical reason -– and the superintendent has stated no explicit reason whatsoever – why those provisions should not be formally extended to the other 28 schools. There is nothing extraneous in this safety agreement covering the four initial schools to open which should not apply to the additional 28 schools. That is why it has been a shock and profoundly surprising to many of us that Supt. Cassellius has yet to guarantee those same provisions to the other 28 schools slated for reopening on Monday.

We appreciate that Mayor Walsh played such a critical role in reaching the November 15 agreement – and we appreciate that he continues to express his intention to provide similar provisions at the additional schools slated to be opened. That is why we are disappointed, confused, and saddened that the superintendent is not following through and doing her job to memorialize and formalize those commitments. We have felt supported by the Mayor and we wish we could say the same about the superintendent. 

Every educator and every student is worthy of these same protections from the district and many educators have expressed frustration that their school may be treated as less deserving of having these protections memorialized in writing than another. It hurts the trust of educators and of families when the district holds out on extending these provisions equally to schools, particularly when the district holds out on putting those provisions in writing even as COVID-19 rates continue to persist at dangerously high levels across our city. There was a feeling among the membership that the superintendent may somehow be politicizing what should be a very clear procedural matter to ensure equal protections across schools.         

The school district should not be arbitrarily picking and choosing higher standards for some schools over others – it is not just and it is not safe – and the hesitancy to confirm these standards in an agreement with educators sends the wrong signals, even if unintentionally, to the entire community. Why does the superintendent think it is okay to ask certain school communities to settle for lower standards than others? It doesn’t add up and it is a matter that could have been easily resolved over recent weeks without members feeling forced to take action from the floor in the form of an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the superintendent.”

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