In this Issue:
BLM at School Demands & HEA Actions, 13 Guiding Principles
RECN Resources, Flexibility in FSA/DCAP, Required Long Term Care Insurance (WA Cares)
May 28, 2021
A year beyond George Floyd’s murder, on Memorial Day, I encourage you to take time to reflect on your personal journey through grief, anger, and protest. We reside in institutions that can feel, at best, timeworn and obsolete and, at worst, heartless and cruel. I know I have struggled in my role of power and privilege to discern the best course of action. But I each day I wake up and allow myself to reimagine what is possible.
Realizing the vision of the membership and releasing their determination and drive are necessary to repair harm inflicted on our students, families, and some of our own members. We must protect and cherish our Black students and colleagues. We must find new avenues to achieve justice. And when we can’t find these roads, we must build them.
Much is being written on the movement for racial and social justice. I am sharing an opinion piece by the Rev. William Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. This is part of a series in the New York Times that you may wish to follow.
I invite you to join the union in this journey. Nominations are open until Tuesday for Elementary and Specialist Reps on the HEA Executive Board. Please reply to this email if you would like more information on either position. Below are other ways to contribute. I encourage you to find what inspires you to forge on to end racism and repair its impact on our students, friends, colleagues, and community.
Black Lives Matter at School. The four BLM at School demands are described here. HEA members, families, and students have pursued these demands over the last several years on multiple fronts and have made some progress. Change is possible. Here is an update and resources to support what still lies ahead.
End the School to Prison Nexus
While Highline has made strides in recent years to end zero tolerance discipline – and indeed, Washington State has prohibited it in most circumstances – discipline disproportionalities still exist, and we are actively addressing it. Two new joint teams were established in September: The Highline Equity and Antiracism Team (HEART) and the Student Behavior Support Team (SBST). This work will have a direct impact on HEA members, with Building-based Equity Teams and professional learning to support restorative and trauma-informed practices. Internal work within the HEA is also getting underway, revising our governing documents to promote anti-racist practices and build supportive, empowering organizing and organizational structures for our members. Please email me if you are interested in joining this work over the summer.
Mandate Black History and Ethnic Studies
Attend HSD’s first public meeting on zoom June 3 from 4:30-5:30 to discuss the implementation of Ethnic Studies since legislation was passed to require Ethnic Studies grades K-12.
Hire and Retain Black Teachers
Hiring and retaining more Black teachers and other Educators of Color is important because it creates a powerful learning experience when students have teachers and ESAs who look like them. Our students learn more. Our educators experience less burnout. While Washington State does not allow for explicit affirmative action policies, through a HEA/HSD LOA we are keeping provisional teachers in their schools this year and next rather than experience displacement. This provision is designed to support our newest educators by allowing them to stay in the school where they were hired to serve that community of learners. With the district doing more to recruit BIPOC educators, this language should be supportive of our newest BIPOC staff. (Please note that reduction in force by seniority has not changed.)
Fund Counselors Not Cops
This month, our educators and the community came together to express the need for more counselors. Using ESSER funds, every elementary school will now have a full-time counselor as we wait for state funding to kick in, and students at some secondary schools will gain more counselors. These efforts will fund an expansion of counseling services in at least eight schools.
Two years ago, through lobbying efforts on the part of staff and students, Evergreen and Highline High School were provided funds (saved by not hiring a School Resource Officer) in order to develop alternatives to policing on campus. Those efforts will get underway this coming school year. Recently, the legislature passed extensive training requirements for School Security Officers and SROs that include knowledge of child development, de-escalation, and restorative practices.
Learn the 13 Guiding Principles. Each year in February, we encourage members to commit to a Week of Action to grow our students’ understanding of the BLM at School 13 Guiding Principles.
RECN Resources. Several years ago, the school board authorized teachers to utilize BLM at School resources, so take advantage of RECN’s K-12 materials assembled and/or written by the leaders of Rainier Educators of Color Network (RECN). All HEA members can join RECN, including Allies, Accomplices and Co-conspirators (AACs). The next meeting is June 17. You can also use this Starter Kit to dive deeper into BLM at School.
Finally, to support this organization, buy BLM at School publications and get your gear here.
Flexibility in FSA/DCAP. SEBB members will have the unique opportunity to adjust their elections for 2021 medical Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSA) or the Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP) in June or September this year. As part of the enhanced flexibility for COVID-19, you will be allowed to make changes that can take into account changing medical or child care costs. In addition, there is a temporary increase in the maximum amount that can be withheld for DCAP. If you want to take advantage of this chance to change your medical FSA or DCAP withholdings, submit the Change in Status form to your district’s payroll office. If you are not already enrolled in FSA or DCAP for 2021, this does not allow you to enroll.
The following COVID changes to medical FSA and DCAP are available without needing to request changes. FSA funds can be used for personal protective equipment purchased in 2021 related to the pandemic. FSA funds will continue to be available after leaving employment, and unspent 2020 DCAP funds can be used for expenses through 12/31/2021. For more information, visit COVID Relief Changes.
Required Long Term Care Insurance Coming (WA Cares)
In 2019, the legislature created the state’s Long-Term Services and Support Trust, called WA Cares, to address a growing need for long term care supports. The program is funded by a payroll deduction of $0.58 per $100 earned starting January 1, 2022 and eventually will provide benefits to workers who pay in for ten years (without a break of five or more years) or for those who pay in three of the last six years before applying to access the benefit. The state benefits will be paid to qualifying individuals who reside in Washington when they need to rely on that benefit. There is a lifetime maximum benefit of $36,500 which will increase annually to keep pace with inflation.
At this time, the district is reviewing alternative opt-in coverage which might be less expensive and/or provide higher benefits. The decision whether to adopt a private alternative is subject to the recommendation of Highline’s Benefits Advisory Committee and subsequent adoption by the School Board. Some members may already be covered privately through the NEA Long-Term Care Program or another private insurance option.
So please plan ahead. Those with an approved private Long Term Care insurance plan in place before November 1, 2021 may apply for an exemption from the state payroll deduction or coordinate the private benefits as a supplement to the WA Cares program. If you decide to opt out of the state plan, you should know this is a permanent decision and cannot be changed even if you change employers. WEA members also have access to explore long-term care alternatives through a special NEA Member Benefits site designed for those considering opting out of the WA State LTC Trust Act.
Ultimately, this will be a personal financial decision which may be influenced by your remaining years of work, rates and benefits of competing plans, and your retirement plans. For those who decide to opt out of the state plan, the window to opt out runs October 1 through December 1, 2022, but members must show proof that their qualifying private long-term care insurance was purchased before Nov 1, 2021.