The California Teachers Association has told Governor Gavin Newsom that the union wants schools in counties with high Covid-19 infection rates to remain in distance learning for 100 days so the state can develop a more aggressive plan to slow the spread of the virus and have all school staff vaccinated.
”We need a clear and coordinated state, county and local plan that puts the health and safety of our communities first and does not take shortcuts toward the path of opening schools in person,” union leaders stated in a letter Wednesday to Newsom. ”To do otherwise will continue the ’yo-yo’ effect we warned of last summer and this fall — opening schools, only to then close them because we failed to have the necessary layered protections and asymptomatic testing in place.”
To make that happen, the union is asking the governor to keep all schools in counties in the purple, or widespread, tier of the state’s tracking system in distance learning during the 100-day period. Counties in that tier have more than seven cases per 100,000 residents or have more than 8% of test results positive over a seven-day period.
The union also is asking for enforcement of health orders and workplace regulations and increased Covid-19 testing.
The letter challenges the governor’s plan to begin reopening schools to some students next month. His ”Safe Schools for All” incentive plan has also drawn criticism from school superintendents.
This is not the first time the union has called for enhanced safety precautions and vaccinations for school employees to reopen schools.
But the letter does come as school districts across the state have been struggling to figure out how to vaccinate their staff with an unpredictable vaccine supply and lack of statewide coordination of vaccinations.
Although teachers and other school employees are included in the next phase (Phase 1B) of the state’s vaccine rollout they are not being vaccinated in many California counties, which are still vaccinating healthcare workers and nursing home residents in Phase 1A.
Timing for vaccinating teachers and school employees depends on how a county health department decides to prioritize vaccines within Phase 1B, which also includes everyone 65 and older, agriculture and food workers and emergency service personnel. There is no guidance that puts teachers at the top of that group.
The governor’s plan would give school districts $450 to $750 per student if they offer in-person instruction to students in transitional kindergarten through second grade by Feb. 15 and third- through sixth-grade by March 15. Districts that start a month later can get $100 less. Districts would need to have comprehensive health and safety plans in place, including COVID-19 testing.
In its letter, the union says it has concerns about the timeline for implementing the plan and the use of Proposition 98 dollars for school safety but is committed to reopening schools.
President Joe Biden’s COVID relief package is in line with the union’s requests to the governor and would be needed to fund all the necessary safety precautions required in order to return to school, said Claudia Briggs, union spokesperson.
Vaccinating teachers is also a key part of Biden’s plan to reopen schools.
Meanwhile, A group of families and caregivers of students in the Mount Diablo Unified School District started a petition and urges the District to reopen schools for an alternative in-person learning option.
The petition challenges that the district is no longer serving the best interests of a growing number of students. “In-person education is absolutely essential – not just ideal – for many of our families,” it states. “We believe that in-classroom learning is critical to children’s academic, social and emotional development, and crucial for preventing further learning gaps and increased mental health issues.”
According to the petition, data on schools that have opened in the greater Bay Area, state of California, and across the USA show that it is possible to address safety and minimize spread in classrooms if guidelines are adhered to. “We pledge to support our school sites as they work to create the safest environment possible for all.”
“Those that need their students to have in-classroom learning must have that option, while families who prefer to keep their children at home should continue to be able to do so. Many MDUSD teachers are willing and ready to return to classrooms once they have been given confirmation that the learning environment meets health and safety protocols.”
With a plea of urgency, the petition lists the following demands upon MDUSD:
Provide a transparent, step-by-step action plan for re-opening that meets all safety guidelines set forth by the state of California, with weekly status updates.
- Re-open MDUSD schools as soon as possible, using the state of California criteria of COVID-19 metrics, as set forth in the “COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Instruction Framework & Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in California, 2020-2021 School Year.”
- Immediately collaborate with MDEA to survey the district teachers and staff in preparation for the return to in-person learning in the current academic year.
- Immediately survey all district families in order to gather accurate data for the current academic year.
- Share in a timely and transparent manner the results of both the family and teacher surveys;
- Be ready and able to open in hybrid in the current academic year once state determined criteria for community spread has been met, within 7 days.
With regard to the 21/22 academic year, we respectfully ask:
- No later than April 16th, provide a commitment to MDUSD families to re-open campuses for the 21/22 academic year and propose alternative resources for families not seeking in-person learning modalities.
To date 2,997 have signed the petiion of a goal of 5,000.
(Diana Lambert , Ed Source contributed to this article)