Parents and educators, particularly those who are from or work with low-income communities and communities of color, are concerned and fearful about reopening schools before it is safe to do so.
At a virtual press conference hosted by CTA on Friday, Feb. 12, parents and educators from across the state said reopening while COVID-19 rages on — and with new and dangerous variants appearing — would be premature.
“Every day, thousands of people are still getting infected and dying,” said Los Angeles parent Maria Osorio. “It’s too much to return under these conditions.”
“I’m scared — for myself, my children and my family, and for teachers and their families,” said Fresno parent Marisela Valasquez.
“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.” —Matthew Schneck, San Diego Education Association
“The virus is ripping through my students’ communities,” said San Diego 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 Native American and parent of three. “We need to be listening to voices in these communities — not just picking out whatever equity talking points meets our agenda.”
“We need to hear Black, Latinx, immigrant and Indigenous communities before we assume we know what they need.”
—Pecolia Manigo, Oakland parent
“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.”
Valasquez agreed, saying those who want to reopen schools immediately “don’t speak for me or my community.”
Teacher Christine Kratt, San Diego Education Association, has spoken of how educators are scapegoats for the failures of lawmakers and leaders: “We’re being blamed and attacked by armchair epidemiologists.” At the press conference, she talked as a parent: “I need to believe strongly when I put my child back into a classroom that every single thing that can be done is being done.”
Parents underscored their support for educators and the need to ensure their safety. “With this disease we do not yet know the full implications and long-term effect,” Manigo said. “We stand with teachers who call for safety measures that are critical.”
State lawmakers are currently determining school reopening timelines and requirements, even as communities continue to grapple with critically high virus transmission rates, a vaccine distribution plan that is uneven and unclear, and virus variants surfacing, including the dangerous B.1.1.7 variant. Educators, parents and community members are urging lawmakers to ensure that schools only reopen when completely safe.
CTA has called for multilayered mitigation strategies that protect students and school staff, and consider local community conditions. This includes regular testing and tracing, proper ventilation, masking, robust cleaning and sanitation, and physical and social distancing. It also includes a phased-in approach to vaccinating educators that starts with those who are currently working on campuses — especially employees in school communities most impacted by the pandemic — and adds others as they are required to report to campus. In addition, CTA urges lawmakers to take a comprehensive and data-driven approach to stop community spread.
“It’s disingenuous to say this virus only spreads in homes or gatherings. We have no idea what the spread looks like in schools.” —Lisa Delano-Wood, parent and UCSD professor
Lisa Delano-Wood, associate professor and clinical neuropsychologist in the department of psychiatry at UC San Diego, is the parent of a child in San Diego schools. 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 by the pandemic, with high mortality and transmission rates. A Feb. 11 Los Angeles Times story reported on its survey of more than 20 school districts throughout LA County. It found that districts in wealthier, whiter communities are “more likely to be moving full steam ahead to reopen elementary schools and have plans in place to welcome students back as soon as permitted.” Districts serving less affluent Black and Latinx communities, on the other hand, are further behind in such plans; community leaders instead have spoken of suffering and fear among people as a result of the pandemic.
A University of Southern California study in July found that a majority of families who make less than $50,000 a year wanted schools to avoid in-person instruction entirely for the 2020-21 school year, while only 27 percent of families who make more than $150,000 a year wanted remote-only schooling.
And a recent CDC study showed that Black and Latinx parents were significantly more worried about the exposure risks of in-person learning than their white counterparts.
To watch a video of the full press conference, go here.
New CDC Guidelines: “Prioritize” Educator Vaccinations
On Friday, Feb. 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for returning to in-person school safely. The guidelines highlighted five key mitigation strategies including masking; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and improving ventilation; and doing contact tracing, isolation and quarantining.
The guidelines do not mandate that schools must reopen, and CDC director Rochelle Walensky said teacher and school staff vaccinations are part of the agency’s operational strategy. “We strongly encourage states to prioritize teachers and other school staff to get vaccinated,” Walensky said. “If we want our children to receive in-person instruction, we must ensure that teachers and school staff are healthy and protected from getting COVID-19 in places outside of schools where they might be at higher risk.”