The anticipated CDC Guidelines to reopen public schools safely was released Friday, reiterating what California’s educators have been calling for over the last 10 months: Masks and PPE, 6-feet for physical and social distancing, handwashing stations and proper ventilation, surface cleaning and sanitization; contact tracing, weekly testing, and prioritizing vaccinations for educators and school staff already on campus.
“No one wants to be back in classrooms with students more than educators who know there is no equal substitute for regular in-person learning but, for that to happen, there must be multi-layered safety measures in place, as echoed today by the CDC," said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “The CDC also strongly encouraged states to prioritize teachers and other school staff to get vaccinated. They cautioned that if we want to get children back for in-person instruction, we must protect teachers and education support professionals from getting COVID. We agree!”
School districts have made very clear that they do not have the resources to make sure the proper ventilation is in place, testing, PPE, and the other multi-layered safety measures.
“Educators and school employees in the field can attest to that. The multiple variants are posing an even greater threat across all communities and increasing fear and anxiety levels,” said Boyd. “For these and myriad reasons, we have to get shots in the arms of employees who are required to report in-person and before the students return to campus. Then, pivot to vaccinating those who phase back in to in-person teaching and learning. This addresses the concerns over supply and provide the confidence educators, students and their parents are seeking.”
Congress will need to pass the American Rescue Plan to begin releasing the much-needed funds to the states to begin readying classrooms for the safe return of California’s students, educators and staff.
In a virtual news conference anxious and concerned parents from around the state said reopening schools while COVID-19 rages on – and with new and dangerous variants appearing – would be premature and urged lawmakers to ‘govern by science, not politics.’
“The people speaking out are not part of our communities,” said Pecolia Manigo, an Oakland parent and executive director of Parent Leadership Action Network. “We need to hear Black, Latinx, immigrant and indigenous communities before we assume we know what they need.”
“Our community has been hit very hard by the Coronavirus. There has been a lot of heartbreak. People have lost family members, friends and, just this past week, we had a father and son die within hours… So I am here today because I am scared,” said Fresno mother of four, Maricela Velasquez. “It’s hard to trust the schools will be able to keep them safe. I certainly don’t trust the parents who are speaking loudly right now about us opening schools for our children to go back. Let me be clear, they don’t speak for me and they don’t speak for my community! I won’t be sending my kids back until it is safe, until the virus infection rates have gone down, until the district has provided resources for all for safety measures and until the teachers have had the vaccine.”
Maria Osorio from Los Angeles agreed. “Every day, thousands of people are still getting infected and dying,” said Los Angeles parent Osorio. “It’s too much to return under these conditions.”
Lisa Delano-Wood is a parent of a child in San Diego schools and also an associate professor and clinical neuropsychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. She said at the press conference that it is wrong to point to low transmission rates among students and schools as evidence that schools can reopen.
“Without surveillance testing of students in schools, we don’t have that data,” she said. “I’m very frustrated with what has become a national health problem. It’s disingenuous to say this virus only spreads in homes or gatherings. We have no idea what the spread looks like in schools.”
Delano-Wood said that with new coronavirus variants and high case rates, it’s too soon to reopen local schools. In an opinion piece in the San Diego Union Tribune on Feb. 11 she wrote, “We must delay opening our schools given that case rates of COVID-19 are still nearly five times what the highest tier allows; and the new B.1.1.7 variant that early indications suggest is 50 percent more infectious — particularly in children and adolescents — is rapidly spreading in San Diego County.”
Low-income communities and communities of color have been hardest hit.
“The virus is ripping through my students’ communities,” said teacher Matthew Schneck. “It’s heartbreaking to see the pain and impact on my kids. I’m struggling with the emotional impact of students coming to their teachers with stories of death.”
Several parents stressed that those calling for immediate return to in-person instruction, particularly in the name of “equity” around distance learning, do not speak for them or their communities and are not hearing their voices.
“While distance learning is undoubtedly inequitable, the devastation of this virus is inequitable as well,” said Dawniel Carlock-Stewart, a parent of three. “We need to be listening to voices in these communities – not just picking out whatever equity talking points meet our agenda.”
“We want our kids in school, but as parents our number one priority is their safety and health. That means that we need lawmakers to provide more resources right now to support students during distance learning and to support students when schools reopen. I support vaccinations, guidelines and protocols to make sure that we have what’s necessary for our children to be safe,” said Khallid Al-Alim, a Los Angeles parent. “We know that some parents in more affluent communities have been calling for the opening up of our schools. But my message to them is: please DON’T use the disproportionate impact on our communities to justify your desire to open up schools unsafely!”
Teacher Christine Kratt contracted COVID-19 on school grounds last spring.
“Living with that worry and that concern is something that I don’t wish on anyone. As a parent and as a teacher, I need to have absolute trust in the decisions that are being made by my board of education to make sure that not just the least, but the most safety precautions are in place. There is a false sense of security in the community. I need to believe strongly that when I put my own child back into a classroom that every single thing that is being recommended to be done is being done. And that their teacher feels the ability to concentrate and focus on what it is that she is teaching,” said Kratt.
For more information and COVID-19 resources go to cta.org/covid19.
The 310,000-member California Teachers Association is affiliated with the 3 million-member National Education Association.