Let’s Talk: COVID-19 message

By Gail Kablau

So, a year ago on March 27th, I started something new. A blog specifically for ESP members. We had been planning for several months to get the new ESP webpage up and running in time to start the new blog. I was so excited to get things going. A year later, I sit here in my living room writing to you on Day #14 of a shutdown that has us all working from home due to the Coronavirus. Crazy, right? 

One day we’re at school, doin’ our thing – and the next day we are sitting at home literally watching this pandemic spread across our country like wildfire. And there are so many questions – will I get paid? How do I get the groceries I need safely? What about my 95 year old mother living in a community facility? What if I get sick? What about the kids from school? Who’s taking care of them? Are their parents home, getting paid, able to get groceries, staying well? Scary!

As soon as our school District shut down on March 14th, I heard from someone at another District asking what ours was doing for hourly employees. The word they got was that their paraprofessional aides were only going to be paid if they agreed to come in to help sanitize the buildings. I’m not sure what they were offering to other hourly employees, but that immediately set ME on fire. 

I immediately started meeting with our Union leadership, who then set up virtual meetings with our superintendent, because at the very least we needed to know what they were going to do for the employees and students while we were shut down, especially hourly employees. We have continued to meet regularly with the superintendent as a leadership team and report the outcome of those meetings to our members, so they don’t feel isolated and alone and not knowing what is going to happen. It’s important that those of us who are union leaders continue efforts to work with District administration during these trying times. This is uncharted territory, and we need to work together to make sure we all come out in one piece on the other side of this crisis.

And while it is true that some of the hourly employees who work directly with the students no longer have the option of being with the kids, they still have bills to pay and families to support. They are more than willing to step up and help our students in whatever way they can. And they need to be paid for that effort, even though it looks different than the ways in which they normally do. This is not the time for Districts to save money on the backs of their employees’ misfortune. The money is in the budget – pay them.

The stories from around Wisconsin about our educational support professional staff are nothing less than what you would expect – amazing! We have members dropping off food at homes, making or distributing meals for kids to come pick up (safely, of course), calling to check in with students, setting up educational kits, cleaning school buildings, getting tech up and running for those at home, and the list goes on.

ESP members are stepping up to do the right thing. Is your school District doing the right thing for you? Let’s Talk!

Gail Kablau is the WEAC Education Support Professional (ESP)-at-Large Board RepresentativeContact her at: gdkablau@gmail.com.