Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said her decision to close schools to protect public health “comes with a burden and weighs heavily on me” in a teleconference call with hundreds of MEA member delegates attending a first-ever virtual MEA Representative Assembly (RA) over the weekend.
The governor’s remarks launched an abbreviated version of the annual meeting of MEA’s highest governing body – normally an all-day affair that determines policy matters for the year. An in-person meeting was rescheduled for August to consider new business items.
MEA’s top three officers – President Paula Herbart, Vice President Chandra Madafferi, and Secretary Treasurer Brett Smith – all won re-election to second three-year terms at the RA. Nominations were accepted and elections planned for several other state and national positions.
At the outset, Whitmer joined the call to thank educators at every level, pre-K-16, and from every job category for going above and beyond in the weeks since she signed the first executive order to close schools in the wake of rising infections and deaths from Covid-19 in Michigan.
“I’ve gotten to see some phenomenal things happening from our teachers and our parapros, our administrators and our bus drivers,” she said. “Everyone who’s a part of the school ecosystem has stepped up in creative and meaningful ways to reach out to students.”
She acknowledged the frustrations of losing weeks of instruction, connection, and traditions with students. “I’m frustrated too—I’ve got two high schoolers: one who is missing out on that milestone, graduation, and the other is a junior trying to figure out how she takes an SAT and applies to college.”
The governor urged delegates on the call and all school employees to practice self-care, in addition to caring for students and families in their communities, during this challenging time. She pointed out a new partnership announced last Friday with the online meditation company, Headspace, for Michigan residents to use.
“Thank you for helping your students navigate this incredibly unprecedented moment and doing it with such grace,” she said.
MEA President Paula Herbart echoed Whitmer’s gratitude as she thanked delegates for their patience in navigating an RA meeting “unlike anything we’ve ever done before.”
Even as we recognize the challenges of instituting remote learning plans without adequate resources or time to prepare, she said, “we will not let those realities stop us from trying our very best to meet the educational, social, emotional, and physical needs of our students.”
“The dedication and drive of our members is boundless,” she added, noting cooperative efforts across the state to deliver food to children and families, donate personal protective equipment to hospitals, and check in with students in the immediate aftermath of school closures.
Nothing about this situation is normal, but our collective strength as a union has helped MEA to clear a path forward – “ensuring that the trusted voices of educators are part of locally developed plans” to continue student learning remotely.
Because of a partnership with Whitmer and her team, MEA leaders have been in constant contact with the governor’s office to advocate for what is in the best of interest of our members and students.
“Most of all, I’m pleased we advocated for and got the commitment to continue paying all school employees for the balance of this school year,” she said.
Elections matter, Herbart noted bluntly: “It’s safe to say the outcome would have been different with Bill Schuette as governor.”
This year’s presidential campaign also promises to be unlike any before, thanks to ongoing concerns about the new coronavirus, but our commitment to elect friends of public education at the state and national level must remain steady.
“We must take back this country from the likes of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos,” she said. “Just as we did in 2018 with Gretchen Whitmer, MEA and our members will work hard to elect Joe Biden – a true friend of public education and labor.”
She urged everyone to go online today to give to MEA-PAC at MEAvotes.org to help elect friends of public education at the local, state, and national level.
Political action is just one way that our union demonstrates resilience in the face of difficulty, she said.
“The strength of union is always about the power of the collective – and together, we can and will overcome this crisis. We will continue to stand together, believing in each other and being the champions for education that our students and colleagues deserve, and we will see our way through to a brighter day together.”