California Educator

December/January 2021

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Page 43 of 67

W H E N I S I T S A F E 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 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 in-person instruction. But faced with 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 fami- lies 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," says CTA President E. Toby Boyd. "CTA supports districts and communities that follow the sci- ence in determining when it's safe to go back. We must make sure our communities look at the same science and data and involve all stakeholders, including educators with their knowl- edge of school life and student behavior. To do otherwise is irresponsible, and puts the lives of our students, families, edu- cators and communities at risk." A statewide poll conducted in September shows an over- whelming majority of parents agree. O ver 80 percent said that the safety of students and staff should be the top con- cern 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 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 lev- els 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 Returning to Our Schools CTA urges communities, locals to follow the science By Frank Wells S I N C E M A R C H CTA has been vocal in urging science and safety in decision-making around schools and communities. Go to for CTA recom- mendations made to California lawmakers and other resources, facts and tools in the fight against COVID-19. "Teachers want to return to in-person instruction, and we know our students do as well." relief. Still, the current Congress may approve some scaled-down relief package, and President-elect Biden is pledging to push for more after he assumes office. Despite funding shortfalls and lack of consistent statewide testing and other protocols, some communities have come together to address solutions. The San Diego Education Asso- ciation partnered with UC San Diego to develop an ambitious program that would regularly test all 100,000 district students and 15,000 st af f m emb ers. A d ditional di stri ct m ea sure s include plexiglass separating students in classrooms who sit at every other desk. (Due to worsening city and county coro- navirus numbers, San Diego Unified announced it is pushing back the expansion of in-person instruction until after the first of the year.) School districts are sometimes caught between what com- munities want and what is scientifically sound. In Manhattan Beach, parents rallied in November to urge Los Angeles County to allow district schools to physically reopen grades 3-6, con- trary 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 district is moving ahead without its consent with new changes as the first waiver expires. " We learned that assurances made aren't always th e reality," says MBU TA P resi dent S hawn Ch en . "Memb ers w ould show up to work having been promised basic PPE, Clorox wipes and other measures, and were told they were on back order. 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, edu- cators, parents and communities should follow the science so that schools can reopen as soon as it's safe and possible. For an expanded version of this story, go to 42 Advocacy

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