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By Gabriella Landeros

As COVID-19 cases spike across the country and here in CaliforniaSacramento County educators rose together to demand a multi-layered pandemic defense plan that protects students, staffand communities 

Since the county entered the purple tier, the presidents of 11 Sacramento County locals organized quickly and issued a letter on behalf of the educators and students, who are served in Sacramento County’s TK-12 public schools, to the superintendent of Sacramento County schools and the county public health officer to urge them to ensure strong COVID-19 prevention measures as schools are attempting to reopen or have reopened already in the widespread level.  

In the letter, they requested a meeting with both officials to discuss the ongoing policies, guidance, and conditions under which schools are prematurely attempting to reopen for in-person instruction – bringing hundreds of thousands of students and staff indoors for many hours a day, in poorly ventilated spaces and with serious underfunding. 

The work does not stop here, though. Leaders agreed that this is too much, and they already set testing and mitigation standards. They look forward to meeting with the county officials, and every week moving forward these same locals will be checking in with each other. Locals will be reporting any outbreaks, and they will use this data for their organizing efforts to ensure robust safety measures and impactful testing occurs. 

“As educators, we want to be back in the classroom with our students, but there is too much at risk to ignore science, facts and safety,” said Elk Grove Education Association President Rick Stancil. 

“The lack of testing and robust safety measures is irresponsible and puts not only the lives of our students and staff in danger, but their families and the entire community,”

– River Delta Unified Teachers Association President Marsha Montgomery.

“Educators have never stopped teaching and students have never stopped learning – the work has not stopped. Going back physically is not only premature at this stage, but an unsafe act from county officials,” said Galt Elementary Faculty Association President Heather Wetzel. 

Since the beginning, educators have said that California cannot physically reopen schools for in-person instruction unless it is safe. When educators with the Folsom-Cordova Education Association (FCEA) were forced to return to in-person instruction (contrary to the safety protections that are needed to do that) on November 12 in the purple tier, other locals who were experiencing a similar situation naturally joined the fight. In fact, since November 12, about five or six classrooms have shutdown. This truly gives testament to the saying, “there is power is numbers.”

FCEA President AngelicMiklos on an organizing call with other Sacramento County chapter presidents 

“This shows the blatant disregard of safety for students, educators, and staff. County officials are endangering the lives of students, rather than putting in place a strong county-wide approach to ensure everyone is safe,”

– FCEA President Angelica Miklos

The letter highlights poor execution from schools on robust safety measures, including testing, which are required for the safest learning environment. It also reiterates the need for dependable leadership to coordinate and operationalize compliance checks to ensure safety measures are actually implemented; regular and accessible testing-for-prevention dedicated to schools; rapid case notification and contact tracing; isolation support and medical care for our most vulnerable students and school families; and data transparency of cases, outbreaks, and quarantines in schools.  

Organizing = Strength

Sacramento County chapter presidents on an organizing call 

“Our biggest weapon as educators is to join forces for this common goal. We miss our kids, but returning to in-person instruction without comprehensive safety measures puts everyone at risk,” said Twin Rivers United Educators President Rebecca LeDoux. 

“Safety measures are critical, and rather than going to campus ready to teach and learn with everything in place, fear is looming in our minds,” said Natomas Teachers Association President Brenda Borge. 

“Educators must continue to be part of the conversations, planning and decisions that directly impact their students, including how and when schools physically reopen and the continuing implementation of robust distance learning,” said Sacramento County Office of Education Teachers Association President John Liddicoat. 

Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA) President David Fisher on an organizing call with other Sacramento County chapter presidents

“Public health experts have repeated the need for testing with immediate and thorough contact tracing—something Sacramento County is behind in. We need an integrated, district-based program for testing and tracing to make sure students and staff are safe,” said SCTA President David Fisher. 

“Together, we hope we can find the safest solution possible so the safety of our students, educators, and staff is kept as a top priority – just how educators have advocated for this since the start of the pandemic” said San Juan Teachers Association President Bill Simmons. 

“There is significant work that must be done to safely reopen schools. This letter is a testament to all the work that still needs to be done to ensure safety is a priority for students, educators, and staff,” said Robla Teachers Association President Leah Boylan. 

“We must hold our leaders accountable. As educators, we will not stop advocating for the safety of our students, educators, staff, and community,” said Center Unified Teachers Association President Venessa Mason.