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By Frank Wells

When is it safe for educators and students to return to school campuses? That is the question CTA members, local chapters and the districts where they work have been grappling with since the explosion of the COVID-19 virus pandemic in March. While local circumstances and decisions have varied throughout the state, CTA has remained steadfast in its position that science and safety should lead the way back to inperson instruction 

But in the face of a virus that we learn more about every day – and as the CDC changes its policies in response – it’s difficult for local chapters and school districts to know the best way forward.  

“Our hearts go out to the students and families facing enormous challenges because of the pandemic, from the digital divide to financial issues to everyday life disruptions,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. Teacherwant to return to in-person instruction, and we know our students do as well.  

CTA supports districts and communities that follow the science in determining when it’s safe to go back,” Boyd said. We must make sure our communities look at the same science and data and involve all stakeholders, including educators with their knowledge of school life and student behavior. To do otherwise is irresponsible, and puts the lives of our studentsfamilies, educators and communities at risk. 

“Our hearts go out to the students and families facing enormous challenges because of the pandemic, from the digital divide to financial issues to everyday life disruptions. Teachers want to return to in-person instruction, and we know our students do as well.” – CTA President E. Toby Boyd

A statewide poll released in September shows an overwhelming majority of parents agree. Over 80 percent said that the safety of students and staff should be the top concern when reopening schools. A strong majority (89 percent) said that schools should remain in either remote learning or a hybrid model, with a slight majority saying schools should remain physically closed completely (see cta.org/covid-19 for full poll results) 

It will take money to put effective safety measures in place, and CTA has continued to push at both the state and federal level for funding needed to reopen schools safely. Unfortunately, the stalling of the HEROES Act in the Senate and the narrow defeat of Proposition 15 have sidelined two potential sources of relief. Still, the current Congress may approve some scaled-down coronavirus package to the states, with President-elect Biden pledging to push for more after he assumes office.  

Despite funding shortfalls and lack of consistent statewide testing and other protocolssome communities have come together to address solutions. The San Diego Education Association and UC San Diego partnered to develop an ambitious program that would regularly test all 100,000 district students and 15,000 staff members. Additional district measures include plexiglass separating students in classrooms who sit at every other desk. (Due to worsening city and county coronavirus numbers, San Diego Unified announced they were pushing back the expansion of in-person instruction until after the first of the year.) 

School districts are sometimes caught between what communities want and what is scientifically sound. In Manhattan Beach, actor Vince Vaughn led a parent rally in November to urge Los Angeles County to allow district schools to physically reopen grades 3-6, contrary to state and county guidelines. In October the county lifted a requirement for union sign-off on waivers to school-related COVID-19 guidelines, and while Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association had approved an initial waiver, the union has concerns that the school district is moving ahead without its consent with new changes as the first waiver expires.  

“We learned that assurances made aren’t always the reality,” says MBUTA President Shawn Chen. “Members would show up to work having been promised basic PPE, Clorox wipes, and other measures, and were told they were on backorder. We’ve had some teachers with health concerns indicate they’ll just have to take a leave; others don’t have the banked sick leave or financial wherewithal to do that, even if they have underlying conditions or at-risk family members.”  

CTA has heard from other chapters where members have resigned or prematurely retired out of genuine fear for their own health or that of loved ones.  

With multiple vaccines on the horizon, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but as cases continue to surge, districts, educators, parents and communities should follow the science so that schools can reopen as soon as it’s safe and possible. 

 

For More Information:

Since March CTA has been vocal in urging science and safety in decision-making around schools and communities. Go to cta.org/COVID-19 for CTA recommendations made to California lawmakers and other resources, facts and tools in the fight against COVID-19 

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