The Texas School Superintendent Who Defied Governor Abbott

Codi Saxon

For months, Pedro Martinez has been locked in a political struggle in excess of the protection of educational institutions in Texas. As the superintendent in San Antonio, he defied Gov. Greg Abbott by issuing a mask mandate in educational institutions. He was the only superintendent of a key Texas college […]

For months, Pedro Martinez has been locked in a political struggle in excess of the protection of educational institutions in Texas. As the superintendent in San Antonio, he defied Gov. Greg Abbott by issuing a mask mandate in educational institutions. He was the only superintendent of a key Texas college district to involve university staff members to be vaccinated, prompting a lawsuit from the Texas legal professional standard.

Now, Mr. Martinez, 51, is heading to a extra like-minded natural environment. He will lead Chicago Community Colleges, the third-biggest university system in the country — a single that currently mandates vaccines for workforce, and requires masks in the classroom.

We caught up with Mr. Martinez on Friday for a huge-ranging dialogue about his marriage with Governor Abbott, his placement on vaccine mandates for pupils and his homecoming to Chicago, where he grew up. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You had been at the heart of some of the most important political fights about colleges in Texas throughout the pandemic. Can you wander us by way of some of what transpired at the rear of the scenes?

We started out the formal initially working day of college on Aug. 9. We had more scenarios in the 1st 7 days of school than we experienced in any 7 days for the duration of final year’s pandemic. That immediately scared us. The vast majority of them ended up students. And even when we seemed at the workers, we were commencing to see breakthrough situations of vaccinated personnel. So that’s what drove our choice to to start with have a mask mandate, and then we adopted it up with a vaccine mandate.

I made the decision to do the vaccine mandate due to the fact the governor wouldn’t make it possible for me to question for vaccination proof for my staff members. I mentioned, we just cannot deal with by this pandemic if I really do not even have the essential facts. To this date, we are the only district in Texas that has experienced this vaccine mandate. We are still preventing in court docket. So significantly, I’ve only had 10 team out of 8,000 that have explained, “I’m not going to get a vaccine.” We do have about 120 requests for exemptions for both clinical or religious, but all over again, that is out of 8,000 staff.

Did you fulfill with Governor Abbott above the past yr and a 50 percent?

We ended up all in a pandemic. There was pretty minimal finished in terms of conversation. I have a massive respect for the point out training commissioner. He and I have a terrific relationship. I was generally supplying him a heads-up whenever we ended up heading to do one thing. But other than that, I in no way had any direct contact with the governor.

Did the political ecosystem engage in a variable in your determination to leave?

No, not at all. Not so a lot about Covid. One of the elements that did participate in in me likely again to Chicago, not only is it my hometown, but when I fulfilled Mayor Lori Lightfoot, I located that her values were being aligned. She is a champion for our small children in poverty, she is a champion for our little ones of shade.

The very last time we spoke, you expressed a need for “bold leadership” all over coronavirus vaccines. So far, just 1 substantial college district — Los Angeles Unified — has essential vaccines for college students. Do you program to mandate vaccines for pupils in Chicago?

It is one particular of the points I definitely want to discover. I certainly think that ought to be completed at the nationwide level. If it is a world crisis — I never think it need to be at the district stage. We all know how vital it is to have kids in individual in university. We all, for the most part, concur on that. So why should not there be some daring motion at the nationwide level?

Have you talked to the training secretary, Miguel Cardona, or the White House?

I have talked to their team, but I will inform you, I will be chatting to Secretary Cardona right now. He is calling me to welcome me to Chicago.

Will you be bringing it up?

Yes I am.

Just to be obvious: Are you a proponent of pupil vaccine mandates in Chicago?

I believe it should be on the desk.

One of your largest worries in Chicago will be navigating a contentious connection among your new manager, Mayor Lightfoot, and the Chicago Lecturers Union. What do you see as the major disagreements in that dispute? What do you personally system to do to assist take care of that?

I am not naïve. I know there are some political divides that operate extremely deep. But when it arrives to, for instance, the security of our young children, our young children getting in college in particular person, our colleges remaining harmless, there has to be frequent floor there.

You will be the to start with Latino chief govt of Chicago Community Universities, exactly where Hispanic students make up just about 50 percent of the university student entire body. What is your concept to them?

The sum of satisfaction that I have noticed, it’s just been pretty humbling for me. Chicago is a significant immigrant family. There has been a lot of outreach from unique people sharing their delight, and educational institutions asking me to appear visit with their little ones.

I want to be incredibly obvious. I am going to be really aggressive in my outreach to the African American local community. The African American community in Chicago has constantly felt that they are frankly, next- or third-class citizens. I require to make certain coming in — whether or not I am Latino or not — to send out a crystal clear message that I am heading to do every little thing in my electricity to guarantee there is fairness. I am going to be the winner for all young children.

On a own take note, I have examine that you have 3 sisters who are teachers in Chicago General public Schools, and you have some thing like 30 nieces and nephews in the process.

With my children, there are full of 30 grandchildren — 28 nephews and nieces. Some are babies and are potential C.P.S. learners, some are at the moment in C.P.S. as pupils right now, and some are essentially graduates presently.

So how do your sisters truly feel about their brother getting their new boss?

They are incredibly very pleased, and I will just say this: They are staunch, staunch union supporters. Just one of my sisters had to protect me because it acquired a minimal destructive in the C.T.U. Fb web-site. My sister had to communicate up and say, look, let me share with you who my brother is. I really raised my two younger sisters — just one of my siblings died in a motor vehicle incident and it just decimated my parents — so I elevated them from a younger age. 1 of them is a kindergarten instructor and a staunch union supporter. She built it obvious in her message that she’s all about the union — and in simple fact she said, look, I’ll assistance you keep him accountable — but give him a prospect.

My colleagues in the Chicago bureau inform me I would be remiss if I did not check with this: Cubs or White Sox?

I am a Sox fan due to the fact I grew up with my dad heading to Comiskey Park. Three pounds in the bleachers, and it was normally on bat day, or cap working day.

Deep dish or tavern-fashion pizza?

I like both of those, but I will say I like the tavern-type pizza.

We are in a vital instant in education, with so lots of million kids needing guidance. If you could wave a magic wand now, what do you feel is needed in this second?

What I desire is if I could take away the anxiousness of our team and mothers and fathers. Past yr was a tricky yr for absolutely everyone. A whole lot of mental health and fitness challenges. I am glad that universities are open this calendar year and that classrooms have all of our small children, but the stress is continue to there. That’s why I have been lobbying and advocating for a lot more, bolder motion at the national degree, especially all-around vaccines.

We do not know nonetheless the ramifications that have transpired due to the fact of this pandemic to our kids in poverty and of colour. For illustration, my class of 2020, quite a few of the children basically place on hold their faculty options. We partnered with the city of San Antonio, and we have been in a position to reconnect hundreds of my graduates to make positive they go to faculty. But it took us having circumstance professionals. So I stress. How several college students are in limbo because they made the decision to postpone college? What are the ramifications?

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