On Thursday, October 22, the Evesham Township Education Association (ETEA) saved their paraprofessionals’ health benefits. Earlier this month, the Evesham Township School District informed the paraprofessionals that their hours were being reduced by one hour. The switch meant the paraprofessionals fell below the threshold to earn health benefits. Before the ETEA stepped in on behalf of its members, the Evesham Township Board of Education (BOE) had planned to implement the change to strip the school employees’ health benefits this December. The local association noted the decision was particularly callous given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many schools, including those in Evesham, operating on altered schedules to ensure staff and student safety.

“As COVID-19 cases increase in our state, so too should our sense of community,” said ETEA President Debbie VanCuren as she addressed the Board. “We cannot and should NOT strip our paraprofessionals of their dignity. Yes, you aim to remove only one hour of work from these individuals, but you will be taking so much more. You will be taking their sense of security. We understand that all decisions have their reasons, but, as far as we can tell, this decision lacks any tangible purpose at all.”

Before the reduction was finalized, the ETEA led a fast-paced organizing effort to win community support for their members. Hundreds of ETEA members, community members and students rallied before the Oct. 22 Board meeting. Wearing red and holding signs that read “No Healthcare Cuts During Covid. We Stand with the Evesham Paras,” the Board could not ignore the power and, ultimately, reversed their decision to reduce the hours of the paraprofessionals.

Angel McDermott, Region 5 Field Representative, led an NJEA staff team to support the ETEA in their fight for the paraprofessionals’ benefits. Greg Yordy, from NJEA’s Research Division, provided an analysis of the Evesham Township budget. From the Communications Division, Matt Stagliano helped create yard signs distributed to ETEA members and parents. Angel McDermott worked closely with the ETEA to organize the ETEA members’ rally before the BOE meeting.

At the end of the night, the BOE decided to ensure that the ETEA paraprofessionals do not lose their health benefits. This win saved the paraprofessionals’ health benefits while demonstrating the power of collective action during times of crisis.

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