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CTA has been saying for months in conversations with and in letters to the Governor’s administration: In order for schools to reopen for in-person instruction, the safety of students, their families and educators must be the top priority. CTA has been calling for tougher safety standards, testing, data collection and transparency since July.

Our letters to California elected leaders:

CTA continues to support distance learning for schools that are in the highest Purple Tier of transmission rates.

As the Governor said in his press conference today, CTA’s work on increased safety standards has been foundational for how they envision reopening. The focus on safety plans, data collection, transparency and enforcement seem to be steps in the right direction; however, there are many unanswered questions and the devil is always in the details, particularly as it relates to implementation and execution. We truly look forward to hearing more details as we’ve heard varying accounts over the past few days. Hopefully, the new guidelines that the Governor said would be released next week will create a coherent statewide plan rather than creating more confusion for parents and school districts.

There’s no one more eager than educators to be in classrooms with all students, where we know they learn best. As outlined in our letter to the legislature earlier this month, safe schools should not be a relative or subjective term up to regional or political interpretation.

Safety should be a standard. A common standard. A statewide standard that is uniformly known and enforced. And the state must provide the necessary supports to make that happen.

The Governor’s proposed timeline is aggressive, and unfortunately, COVID-19 does not follow a calendar or a political timetable. According to the Governor’s documents, core strategies for reopening schools include masks; physical distancing; small, stable groups; hand hygiene; ventilation; screening for symptoms or close contact; and asymptomatic testing. It’s unclear if many of the increased safety requirements, testing and data collection would even be in place to fit the proposed schedule.

CTA believes all schools will need additional funding and supports to open for in-person instruction safely whenever the local parents, educators and communities make those decisions. Those decisions should be driven by the community and local health conditions, rather than “incentives” tied to an arbitrary date, particularly given the current rates of transmission and conditions in some of our most vulnerable communities.

Testing for educators and students is essential to safely opening schools for in-person instruction, especially in counties that are in Purple and Red Tiers. Testing should be a mandatory requirement of any safe reopening plan. The Governor today said testing would be mandatory to receive additional funding. We look forward to seeing that in the details. The state must provide testing and contact tracing, along with transparent data collection for schools, so we are aware of and can track the number of cases and outbreaks in public schools. We also know the vaccine and its distribution to educators is an essential piece of reopening plans.

Safely reopening schools will require further review of not just the Governor’s proposal, but of the Legislature’s as well. There are worthwhile elements in each: the focus on safety standards in the Governor’s proposal and AB 10’s approach to have schools in counties in the Purple Tier remain in distance learning, especially as transmission rates are double, triple and quadruple the current standards.

California’s schools are the heart of their communities. For many of our most vulnerable and underserved populations, they are lifelines. We know the victims of COVID-19 are not random. They are overwhelmingly essential workers, poor people and people of color. Any reopening plan should consider equity concerns, as many non-white families are not ready to send their children back to classrooms due to the harsh and disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. A recent national poll showed 82% of Black families, 81% of Asian families and 75% of Latino families supported prohibiting K-12 schools from teaching in person, compared to 64% of white families.

It is equally important that there is a thoughtful, long-term view of how dollars are allocated to schools for reopening because this is not a two- or three-month endeavor. Ensuring safe school conditions, proper ventilation and testing are just some of the cost components. Others include providing additional funding for social and emotional support for students and staff, technical assistance and broadband support for students, and supplemental support for students with special needs and English Language Learners. It’s important that the one-time dollars provided by the federal government are prioritized for school reopening so the state may preserve Prop. 98 dollars for long-term and ongoing needs.

As throughout this pandemic, educators are dedicated to supporting students who are struggling. Teachers have been going above and beyond, reaching out to families and providing additional one-on-one support for months. As a next step, CTA is convening a group of education leaders to focus on additional supports needed for those students and educators, whether they are in distance learning or returning to the classroom.

We know this is a first proposal. All of us – educators and parents – have many questions and we look forward to seeing all of the details. We will work with the Governor and Legislature as this must be a joint effort to ensure a safe and successful reopening of schools.

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