As president of the National Council of Education Support Professionals of the National Education Association (USA), I have the distinct honor of representing Education Support Professionals (ESPs) across the United States. We are crossing guards, bus drivers & bus monitors, paraeducators, secretaries, custodians, interpreters & translators, cafeteria workers, and everything else in between.
While the work of ESPs may not always make the headlines or the nightly news, we are the engine of our public schools. We are an integral part of the vision to ensure that every student has access to a quality education. And we are a critical link between the students in our schools and classrooms today and the future that awaits them.
We understand that our work is more than just a job. We are organizers. We are activists. We are lobbyists. We are liaisons. We are leaders. And we give our all to our communities, our unions, our schools, and our students.
Even though schools are closed across the nation, ESPs are continuing to prepare and distribute school meals; clean, maintain, and secure school buildings; prepare and deliver materials to students; oversee technology needs; and perform other vital work during the COVID-19 pandemic. In my own school district of Austin, TX, ESPs have deployed 110 school buses equipped with WiFi to neighborhoods and apartment complexes where the district identified the highest need for internet access.
Many schools and school districts are undertaking creative strategies to reach students and families. For example, in food service, some schools are providing “grab and go” meals outside of buildings and drive-thru options, or delivering meals to school bus stops or directly to students. All of these options are crucial in providing students with access to nutritious meals, yet all increase health risks to educators and ESPs, and to students and families.
We believe that anyone whose job requires that they come in contact with the public at this time should be considered a frontline worker whose job is essential to communities. And this includes the ESPs and educators who are putting themselves and their families at risk to meet students’ needs. This is why NEA is asking that the next COVID-19 legislative package, include at least $56 million for personal protective equipment (PPE) for education support professionals and educators in direct contact with students. To effectively do their jobs, it is critically important that ESPs have what they need during this time and when schools begin to open its doors.
The safety and well-being of students and educators when they return to school cannot be compromised. The needs will be varied, including mental health and nutritional supports, training for loss and trauma related to the COVID-19 crisis. Our concern is for the safety of students and all who work with them in schools and classrooms. We must make sure that people who work in our schools have the proper training and guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.