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School Board Speech February 3, 2021

Good evening Board Members and Superintendent Stephens, I’m Matt Meyer, President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.

Tonight I’d like to talk about the glimmer of hope on the horizon as local COVID cases continue to decline and vaccinations continue to be administered. It has been a long and challenging winter. We are not yet in the clear, but there are reasons to be optimistic. 

BFT members appreciate the community activism that has generated local and statewide conversations about prioritizing vaccines for people who will work in person with students in our schools--teachers and classified staff alike. Although we do not yet know when vaccines will be available, we believe that the delivery of vaccines to education workers will have a positive impact on our timeline for returning to in-person teaching and learning. 

We know that there are many worthy groups that need and deserve prompt access to the vaccine. We gratefully acknowledge the health care providers, transit workers, retail clerks and many others who have served our communities throughout the past months, even in the face of a horrific surge of infections. We know that senior citizens are especially vulnerable and eager for the vaccine and that people of all ages with underlying health conditions are anxiously waiting their turn. We know that communities of color have suffered disproportionately and have a special moral claim to the vaccine’s protection. 

Teachers are not asking to “jump the line”. We are not insisting that our work is more valuable than any other. We are sad and frustrated that the vaccine rollout is so slow and confusing for everyone and that wrenching public health decisions must be made about the order of eligibility. 

However, we do know that our community is beyond anxious about the timeline for returning to some form of in-person learning. Many Berkeley students and their families are stressed and suffering. Their teachers are as well. We all know there is no substitute for being in a safe and healthy classroom. We hope that soon we can move into the future with a plan to vaccinate educators. 

Once educators have received the vaccine, BUSD's in-person staffing capabilities and student support services can improve. Some employees who would qualify for accommodations prior to receiving the vaccine can be available to work in- person. Additionally, a vaccine enables educators to serve multiple cohorts of students. This will enable our Special Education program and Intervention program to be more fully utilized in person. 

Additionally, BFT and BUSD are working together to serve our most vulnerable students in-person. We have been discussing various options for our support staff and teachers to work with small groups of students in person while negotiations on a larger reopening continue.

I’d like to end tonight with a plea to our community to be compassionate toward each other, even toward those who disagree with our own strongly held positions. The enemy is the pandemic--not each other.