Advocacy. Powered by PTA.
PTA is the oldest and largest child advocacy organization in the United States. Washington State PTA and all its affiliated PTAs have the mission to advocate for the health, safety, well-being, and education of the 1.1 million K-12 students across all of Washington state. The role of PTA in advocacy regarding students returning to learning in school buildings is complicated by several factors:
- COVID-19 infection rates vary widely across Washington, so WSPTA cannot take a one-size-fits-all advocacy approach. WSPTA participated in the Reopening Schools Workgroup and has facilitated multiple meetings between PTA leaders and the Governor’s office and OSPI to ask questions and bring parent perspective to the decision-makers at the state level. In addition, WSPTA has created a webpage with the latest guidance from the Washington State Department of Health, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Governor.
- When and how to return students to school buildings is a local decision every school district must make individually, in consultation with their county’s Department of Health. Local PTAs and councils are best positioned to serve as a conduit of information between families and district administration. However, since each family in a school has a different situation, there is no single solution; some families want their students to return as soon as possible, while others will choose to remain in distance learning until everyone in their household is vaccinated. PTAs must make every effort to represent all community viewpoints and advocate for transparency and family involvement in the decision-making process.
- While vast inequities existed in pre-COVID school models for some segments of our population, the pandemic has increased the trauma that these families experienced. Some have no desire to return without talks of innovative changes that allow all students to thrive and families to be authentic partners in school decision-making processes.
- In several school districts, district administrative plans were made before coming to an agreement with their teachers’ union, with resultant threats of work stoppages. PTAs should review the WSPTA Guidance for Work Stoppages. It is in the best interest of children that labor disputes be solved quickly and amicably. PTAs should always remain neutral (do not pick a side in the dispute) but advocate for transparency and a resolution.
What CAN PTA leaders do?
- Familiarize yourselves with the needs and desires of your community and advocate for them. Realize that there will be a wide variety of desires; National PTA released student poll results about their attitudes and needs regarding distance learning and a Position Statement on Reopening Schools. WSPTA has developed a set of survey questions and advocacy letter templates that can be adapted to fit each PTA’s community’s needs. They are available under Helpful Resources and Links on the Now More Than Ever webpage.
- Join the efforts of WSPTA to advocate for Increased Medical and Mental Health Staff, Student Supports and Preservation of Education Funding during the pandemic, and Closing the Digital Divide so that all students have access to the tools they need to be successful in the 21st century. Go to the Advocacy Focus Area to learn more.
- PTAs can plan events and activities that welcome staff and students back into buildings when that time comes. Everyone has struggled during this pandemic – families, students, and educators. PTAs have struggled too – to get members and officers and remain relevant when buildings have been closed. As your school starts bringing students back into buildings for instruction, PTAs should ramp up their engagement efforts to help restore the school community that it serves.