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Results from a new poll of California voters unequivocally support CTA’s position that schools cannot reopen until they are safe.

The poll, “Where Californians Stand on Getting Back to School Safely,” was conducted by Hart Research Associates from Sept. 18 to 26. The online survey interviewed 1,296 registered voters in California, including 527 public school parents, about their views on whether, when, and how the state’s public schools should be reopened for in-school instruction.

The poll found that California parents and voters are most concerned for the health of students, educators, and families in reopening public schools for in-person instruction. Eight out of 10 respondents say the spread of COVID-19 is still a serious problem in the state and believe schools should only be allowed to reopen if they have made major changes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including daily sanitizing, proper ventilation systems, reduced class sizes, testing programs and required face masks.

This supports what CTA has been advocating for since July, when CTA President E. Toby Boyd and other officers sent a letter to the state’s elected leaders urging that schools and community colleges reopen only when safe. CTA called for funding to ensure health and safety measures are implemented, and told leaders that testing for the virus and contact tracing are essential. CTA also believes educators must be included in reopening decisions and steps must be taken to ensure equitable teaching and learning is in place in the face of pandemic challenges.

“Our schools must have adequate resources to put a number of safety provisions in place before districts can even think about reopening safely.” – CTA President E. Toby Boyd

“The findings of the poll reflect the feedback we’ve received from parents and educators,” said Boyd at a virtual press conference on the Hart poll on Thursday, Oct. 15. “This virus will not be rushed, and our schools must have adequate resources to put a number of safety provisions in place before districts can even think about reopening safely.”

In fact, parents in the poll say they would not feel comfortable sending their children to school now and have a low level of confidence that schools are safe at this time. They overwhelmingly believe the biggest factor in reopening schools should be protecting the health of students, staff and families.

“This research clearly shows that safety is the first, second and third priority for California voters and parents when they think about reopening schools for in-person instruction,” said Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, at the press conference. “Parents prioritize health and safety over any concerns with distance learning and reopening the economy.”

“Parents prioritize health and safety over any concerns with distance learning and reopening the economy.” – Geoff Garin, Hart Research Associates

Several districts have moved ahead with reopening this school year despite the science and data that show the virus is far from contained. Ken Johnson, president of the Manteca Educators’ Association (MEA), spoke at the press conference about his district’s refusal to allow educators to be a part of the conversation about safely reopening, to the point where MEA declared impasse in negotiations. When school started in August, four educators from the same school were infected with COVID-19.

“Educators are being forced to teach in these unsafe conditions,” Johnson said. “I’m deeply concerned about students returning in November when our hybrid model starts.

“The district spent $1 million on new computers for teachers. A better use of that money would be to have upgraded ventilation. Instead, every educator got a $50 gift card from the district to buy their own PPE supplies. We should not have to make a choice between safety and technology.”

Dr. Robert Harrison, clinical professor at UC San Francisco and a specialist in occupational medicine who deals with coronavirus cases, believes students, educators and staff must have strong layers of protection to reduce the risk of workplace infection, including reducing the number of contacts, masks, social distancing and proper ventilation.

“It is clear from both a workplace and a community perspective that keeping teachers and staff safe from COVID-19 in schools will also help keep our students and their families safe as well,” Harrison said at the press conference.

“Along with having robust testing programs, having adequate ventilation systems in place is one of the most important steps schools can take,” said Harrison. “Schools need to increase the flow of outdoor air and ensure HVAC systems operate properly with effective ventilation rates, MERV-13 or higher filters, and portable HEPA air cleaners in every classroom. All these are essential.”

Unfortunately, said Boyd, most schools are “antiquated” and lack needed ventilation systems as well as health experts on site and quick-turnaround tests to aid in contact tracing. He emphasized the need for more funding for this, noting that October 15 (today) is the day for state trigger cuts and funding deferrals. As approved in the state budget last July, and absent federal relief funds, the budget will make more than $12.5 billion in funding deferrals for K-14 education – the single largest one-year, funding deferrals in the history of California.

 

Boyd urged passage of Proposition 15, the Schools and Communities First initiative, as one way to help with funding. The initiative, on the November ballot, would reclaim nearly $12 billion annually for California schools and public services.

 

Key Poll Findings 

  • A huge majority of Californians say the spread of the coronavirus is still a serious problem in the state (79 percent) and in their own communities (63 percent). More than half of voters (55 percent) say the worst is still ahead for the spread of the virus.
  • Seventy-two percent (72 percent) of voters and 76 percent of parents worry a lot or some that a member of their immediate family might get sick with the coronavirus. A large majority of Californians (69 percent) say it will take until next year for the virus to be under enough control for the state to start getting back to normal, and that they are concerned about reopening the economy too quickly.
  • Both voters (81 percent) and parents (79 percent) say protecting the health of students, school staff and families is the biggest factor, or one of the top two factors, in deciding whether, how and when local public schools should reopen. This far outpaced other factors, such as meeting educational/social needs of students and keeping on track academically or allowing working parents to return to their jobs so the economy can be reopened.
  • Parents, by 69 percent to 24 percent, say they worry more about children being infected with coronavirus than about children falling behind academically with no in-person instruction.
  • Four in 10 respondents say that schools should not reopen for in-person instruction until there is a vaccine for COVID-19.
  • Eighty-five percent of voters say that when schools reopen for in-person instruction, major changes will be needed; their top priorities are masks and social distancing.
  • Poll respondents overwhelmingly (88 percent) approve of CTA’s demand for testing and contact tracing.
  • The poll found broad recognition that schools need more funds to deal with the impacts of coronavirus.
  • Local teachers ranked at the top, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, as the most trusted voices on whether, how and when schools should reopen.

For details on the poll and key findings, along with more information on CTA’s response to COVID-19 pandemic, guidance and resources, go to cta.org/for-educators/covid19.

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