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Several districts across Washington state are beginning to lay off Educational Support Professionals (ESPs) who provide safety and support for students, including health clerks, paraeducators, nutrition service employees, bus drivers, custodians, and maintenance staff. These school district and school board decisions are short-sighted in a time when districts should be recognizing the value of every school staff member.
At WEA, our priorities are protecting the health and wellbeing of every member, their families, our students, and our communities, while ensuring our schools are fully funded and staffed to meet students’ needs. This means, we believe districts must prioritize health and safety while maintaining current staffing levels to best meet the needs of every student especially in this emergency situation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Legislature has provided funding for nearly all Education Support Professional positions. Currently, there is no financial crisis. This is not the time for districts to build their reserves, reserves intended to be used in an emergency. This pandemic is the emergency, should reserves be required. Keeping all ESPs working is the way to ensure students have skilled individuals giving them the attention they deserve in every capacity. Districts must ensure that we are able to meet the needs of every student when learning remotely and be prepared for when we return to school buildings for face-to-face instruction.
Our schools need more, not fewer, staff to work with students. It is time to think outside of traditionally defined job descriptions and utilize the skills, experience, and expertise of every staff member to meet the unique needs of students during this new remote learning model. Last spring proved how integral ESPs are to reaching and teaching our students. Paraeducators took on the task of reaching out to students and families who were finding it difficult to get connected. Bus drivers were delivering learning supplies and meals prepared by nutrition service workers to families who needed them.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee recognized the importance of our bus drivers, proclaiming that bus drivers, instead of taking children to schools, will be taking school to students. Our ESPs were integral to crisis learning last spring and continue to be integral to remote learning this fall. Moreover, ESPs live in the communities in which they work. They know the families, the community, and their students. It is disingenuous for district leaders to say they support the social emotional learning of students, then cut the staff closest to the children.
Districts must keep valuable employees and their families whole, and guarantee skilled paraeducators, social workers, nutrition service workers, bus drivers, maintenance staff and custodians are immediately ready to go the moment science deems it is safe to return to face-to-face instruction at school. This is not the time to remove school staff. It is a time to get creative so that we meet the needs of every individual student in our schools. That means protecting the positions of every staff member and utilizing their skills to reach every student in these strange and uncertain times.
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