Many unanswered questions, lack of details as some districts rush to return
By Terry Miller
As school districts across California attempt to physically return to classrooms, a “woeful lack of planning for COVID-19 testing, tracing and prevention is putting educators, students and our communities at serious risk of contracting a virus that has already killed more than 200,000 Americans,” Julian Peeples from California Teachers Association (CTA) said in a statement. “Despite more than 65,000 school-age California children being infected with COVID since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the California Department of Public Health, state leaders have yet to act on CTA’s repeated calls for uniform testing and tracing procedures – or the funding needed to pay for such plans, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other preventative supplies.”
“As parents express widespread dissatisfaction with distance learning, two influential California teachers unions are pushing against the impetus to reopen schools in many communities, saying that campuses are not yet safe enough amid the pandemic,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, has joined CTA in expressing concern about reopening schools too soon. UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz says, “Without a uniform plan for the safe reopening of our schools, the lives of educators, school staff, students, and their families remain at risk.”
According to Peeples, “No one’s life should be put at risk because local officials refuse to make health and safety the guiding priority for physically reopening schools, yet across the state school districts are ignoring best practices and medical recommendations to push forward without basic plans, precautions and equipment. While Gov. Gavin Newsom and state officials have opted to trust local leaders to make the decisions that are best for their school districts and communities, the truth is that many cannot or will not, and the time has come for uniform state directives on COVID testing, tracing and prevention to protect lives.”
“Your leadership and action are needed to ensure that robust testing, tracing and isolation support, along with other prevention measures, are in place before students, educators and support staff return to in-person learning,” CTA President E. Toby Boyd wrote in a Sept. 16 letter to the governor and other state leaders. “California must fund, coordinate, and operationalize a true public health response to support public education in our state.”
UTLA union members also called for a uniform reopening process, not one that favors more affluent neighborhoods where spread of the virus is lower. “We need to know that students in East L.A. will be just as safe returning to school as students in West L.A.” said Sharonne Hapuarachy, an English teacher at Dorsey High School, at an Oct. 15 press conference where teachers rejected calls to reopen schools sooner.
“Given the still too-high transmission rates of the coronavirus and a lack of funding to implement uniform health and safety protocols, UTLA remains firm that LAUSD school campuses are not safe to reopen at this time,” said the union in a press release at the end of September.
“LA County remains in the ‘purple’ zone – meaning there is widespread COVID-19 transmission in our communities. While in the purple zone, all schools in the county are supposed to remain closed. However, the County Board of Supervisors voted on Sept. 29 for a limited number of waivers to be granted to schools for transitional kindergarten through second grade classes.
“With such widespread community transmission, including illness and death, from COVID-19, the LA County Board of Supervisors should hold school safety plans to a very high standard before granting any waivers — a standard that may be impossible for schools to achieve, given the grotesque underfunding of California public schools,” says UTLA.