Guest Commentary: Stop Being Patient When It Comes to Re-Opening Schools


By Tristan Leong

Editor’s note: Tristan Leong is a Davis resident, a parent with kids at DJUSD,  and part of a loose committee of parents attempting to organize to re-open the schools.  A number of parents worked on this op-ed, the movement is a completely ad-hoc, organic, parent movement. Many have never met in-person.  They have multiple mediums of communicating and conversing.

The following quote is from a parent responding to the New York Times.

It’s difficult to be calm about the topic of school re-openings during the COVID-19 Pandemic. You likely have a strong perspective one way or another.

However, it’s a false choice to suggest that teachers either risk their lives in the classroom or stay remote, it’s a balance of risks which we all do every day with this virus.

Do I go to the store? Do I have a repairman in my house? Do I go to the doctor for a check-up?

My own son has been attending public elementary school in person since October with only one interruption between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and there has been no recorded in-school transmission of virus despite there being COVID positive students. No fancy HVAC – just masks, temperature checks, quarantines and social distancing. If schools can find the space for social distancing and establish appropriate cleaning protocols and masks, kids should go back. It’s imperative, as anyone pretending remote is anything but a disaster is deluding themselves. While teachers and their unions are right to raise reasonable concerns, some of their demands have become obstructionist and not actually interested in students well-being. Its one thing to protect members, it’s another to insist the risks be zero. We will need to work exceptionally hard on repairing the lost trust (on both sides) after this dreadful pandemic.

All of this push back, you’ll note, is taking place in very progressive cities and towns. The people hurt most by school closures and distanced learning are the socioeconomically disadvantaged (which are by and large minorities) in those districts. The irony of course is that these districts have been the most likely to embrace the “anti-racist” curriculum and other changes that have popped up over the past few years, all in the name of “equity”. The reality is these districts are completely failing those same students they are purporting to try to help by not fully re-opening schools.

Why has this dialogue been completely absent in this supposedly educated and progressive town?

Our situation is no different than the quoted example, except for the fact that our School Board officials and staff did not prepare and are not prioritizing a to return to in-person learning this year.

Further, our inability to re-open Davis schools is tied to the amplification of a small but vocal group of people who continue to promote counterproductive discourse, traffic in misinformation and fearmongering, and wield undue influence on our District leadership to the detriment of our children, community, and society. These people have not been challenged when they pipe up for attention yet offer no solutions, arguing that we should wait for some uncertain time in the future when it is “safe” to re-open schools. Instead they are given a platform in local blogs and newspapers upon which they can amplify their misinformation, appeal to personal fears, emotions, or excuses. These platforms do a further disservice by wrapping their propaganda in the trappings of legitimacy. Those pushing to keep schools closed are not experts in public health who have been tasked with managing a pandemic and protecting populations. A handful may be experts in public health risk assessment, but none that have spoken locally are epidemiologists who have studied communicable diseases or developed solutions to pandemics. Many are everyday people, just like those in the Davis Parent Coalition.

When in a debate, sometimes you need to pull in the experts to resolve a dispute over technical issues. In that situation, these experts are supposed to be neutral arbiters that are fair and knowledgeable. On matters of public health, the experts are the leaders in their respective fields of science, medicine, and disease. For the United States, these are the dedicated staff of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They are the world’s leading experts in the relevant fields to address the COVID-19 pandemic and school re-opening safety questions. We should be listening to them for instruction on when and how we can safely re-open schools. For the local level here in Yolo County, our County Health Office Dr. Aimee Sisson is the expert and authority tasked with protecting our community. She’s been nearly unequivocal in her statements that children in the county can return safely to schools right now. (See article). If our experts say re-opening schools can be safely done, we should call time and stop the “debate.”

David Greenwald asks in his blog post “Why Are Parents in Such a Hurry to Re-Open, Especially Now?” why we shouldn’t wait until it’s “safer” or “safe enough?” – thus challenging the legitimacy of the scientific determinations by these health experts. We would like to respond to your Sunday Commentary article with several themes outlined below.

COVID-19 Surges. The article focuses on the three surges that occurred over the last 10 months. You use these events as justification for keeping schools closed until nebulous metrics are met, sometime later this year. In response to your comment that we need to be “slow and steady”, we would like to point out that data has been collected since March from preschools and daycares that never closed, from private schools that closed and then opened again in the summer/fall, and from public schools that have opened in the fall and winter. Our public health experts now have significant data set on COVID-19 transmissibility in an in-person school (or school-like) setting.

COVID surges and the associated “impatience” in California was primarily driven by 1) eateries and bars where people are unmasked and where ventilation spreads the virus, 2) private unmasked gatherings and other people flouting the experts’ recommendations, and 3) from those whose work situation and circumstances makes distancing and PPE difficult (i.e. workers in a meat-packing warehouse). Schools in Yolo County and through much of California were in remote learning when these surges were happening, proving that in-person schooling was not a factor in promoting community transmission seen in the surges.

The “Debate”. The blog post quotes Mike Creedon, who urges the District leadership to follow the science of the public health experts and to avoid arbitrary and excessive reopening criteria. In his article, David Greenwald says, “But not everyone agrees with that approach.” Why is this even a valid counter-argument? The Davis Parent Coalition is pressing for leaders to listen and follow the science that is coming from their own County, State, and national public health experts, whose task is to ensure that COVID-19 is managed and populations are protected. Just saying that you “don’t agree” with the approach does not open up a meaningful debate. There are no facts on the other side to dispute. When did the narrative change from “Trust the Science” to “Trust the Science Unless You Don’t Feel Like It”?

Marginalized and Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Yolo County Families. The blog post references and summarizes Anoosh Jorjorian’s opinion letter to the Enterprise, wherein she states that the biggest concern marginalized families with essential workers have “is not whether or not school is open, but whether they can access childcare. After all, school hours are not the only hours these parents need care.” We are perplexed by this statement, because here is what Jorjorian’s ApoYolo website says about the COVID-19 impact on these families: The parents in these families are now without work or are working at their peril. Their children are without school, and many schools have provided both physical and intellectual food for these students. So why does Jorjorian appear to advocate that marginalized families do not want to have their kids back in school? In-person school provides to these children a safe place, food, and critical ESL and other language instruction that may otherwise be partially or completely absent. Any language services provided in Distance Learning assume that these most marginalized migrant families can navigate the platforms or that a childcare like Catalyst Kids has the staff available to assist these unique needs.

In advocating for teachers to be vaccinated as priority workers, Jorjorian appears to place teachers in competition with and ahead of marginalized families. As essential workers under the current Tier 1B (agricultural laborers), many of these marginalized families in Yolo County would need to wait even longer to be vaccinated to protect against work environments that have much higher transmission and less protection than that being proposed for school classrooms. The fact that these vaccines would go to teachers whose union and membership have not committed to teach in-person this school year in a congregate setting, with or without a vaccine, creates a logical disconnect for Jorjorian’s position that is difficult to reconcile.

Who’s Doing What, Now? The Sunday Commentary continues with Jorjorian stating that they are counter-protesting because “a small but vocal minority of parents are pushing for school sites to open for a hybrid distance learning/in-person model quickly, claiming conditions are safe for in-person instruction now.” If you look at the results of the DJUSD surveys, approximately 60 percent of the families who responded supported a return to campus for their children for either hybrid or full in- person. That means the majority of parents want an option for their children to return safely to school. Where are these “most parents” who support delaying school re-opening? Who are the “experts” that have been providing advice to the District leadership? The Trustees and their staff have publicly argued against and denigrated the Yolo County Public Health Officer when she appeared at their meeting, and then outright refused to meet with her to discuss safe conditions for reopening.

Vaccination. Public health experts, including the CDC, have determined that vaccination is not a prerequisite to teaching in the classroom. Masks, ventilation, and testing are all necessary components to minimize any transmission in a school setting. By bringing the K-6 and ESL/at-risk/special needs students and staff back on campus and mandating weekly testing for all individuals there is no need to be in the “red tier”. This is because weekly/bi-weekly Healthy Davis testing of these children and staff should catch asymptomatic cases before they can result in classroom and community spread. Families, multi-generational or otherwise, who may not have access or logistical routes to get testing will be able to quarantine themselves and prevent further spread. Children will be on campus in a stable, supervised environment thus lowering the number of unmasked private playdates and other social interactions that have been helping drive community spread. Schools are safer for many children than staying at home.

Jorjorian’s opinion to the Enterprise states: “Teachers and staff deserve the peace of mind that vaccination will bring them.” No one is disagreeing that everyone deserves a vaccine. Grocery workers, daycare providers, migrant laborers, food processing workers, emergency response personnel also deserve peace of mind after the last 12 months. So do the ER doctors, nurses, and all parents whose peace of mind comes from knowing that their children are being taken care of emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically because they are in school. “Peace of mind”, however, cannot be the guiding principle upon which we make public health policy decisions when we must apportion limited resources. Those policies need to be based instead on those most at risk and most in need, as decided by public health officers.

Date Collection and School/Community Spread. David believes that “we don’t really even have good longer-term data on schools and community spread. We lack sophisticated contact tracing and so the research that suggests schools that take proper precautions are not seeing spread may be false comfort and premature.” The CDC respectfully disagrees with this opinion and has sufficient data that has been collected to create its recommendations for school re-opening: they just compiled the national data on school safety. There is nothing “premature” about our understanding of viral transmission in school settings.

Jorjorian notes, “In many districts, including ours, reporting infections of COVID-19 are voluntary, which means infections may have happened but were not reported. Some families may have gotten sick but were never tested. Further, every district has different reporting standards, all over the nation.” We agree that COVID-19 case reporting to school administrators has not always occurred, and note that this is because no one is doing in-person learning. The cases are not occurring in a school environment.

Returning to school with weekly or bi-weekly asymptomatic testing in partnership with the Healthy Davis testing initiative will provide the data and the reporting system for schools and the whole Davis community. We will have our “sophisticated contact tracing” from the testing done for students and the Healthy Davis initiative for their family members. Our DJUSD does not have a District medical health officer and did not even try to put together a reporting plan because there was no real intent to return to in-person instruction this school year. In addition, Jorjorian’s comment confounds what is or is not occurring at schools with un-tested community spread that has occurred outside of a school setting.

Keep Waiting for the “Almost.” David Greenwald’s (Jorjorian, Pickett, Davis, et al.) solution is thus: “use the one advantage we have—time. Run the clock, to use sports parlance. Delay continued instruction, push learning back to the summer when it is more likely that we will have lowered our community spread and when we are closer to the day that the full community is vaccinated.” This is an excuse masquerading as a solution, just like the DJUSD’s reopening plan. There are absolutely no metrics in your solution. What does it mean to have “lowered” our community spread? Yolo County had lower rates multiple times this past fall and DJUSD was not prepared to re-open even though we met the State’s metrics to do so.

Pushing reopening further out does buy time. It buys time for the DJUSD leadership to continue to do nothing and rely upon the idea that they do not need to do anything until we are at a point where the “full community is vaccinated.” We would support extending the school year to make up for lost learning and maximize the benefits of in-person teaching. However, no one in a leadership position ever discussed this in the entire time our schools have been closed. DJUSD has no plan or intent to have schools open in the summer. It would require funding they have squandered and yet another agreement with the DTA that could not be reached in time.

Continue Being Complacent. The Sunday Commentary and the DJUSD Reopening Plan both follow this theme: Don’t be impatient. David pleads that “impatience when it comes to COVID is killing us— literally. We have had three surges now because every time we slow the spread, we lose discipline.” The first surge was related to opening up bars, restaurants, and other vectors where people were in close proximity to each other, unmasked, and that included eating and drinking. The second and third surges have corresponded to holiday events where, guess what? People were congregating in close proximity in their homes, without masks, and with food. This is not an issue of being “impatient.” This is an issue of social responsibility – COVID-19 is also leading to child and adult mental health problems and suicides from those who are isolated at home. We have been slowing the spread left over from the winter holiday season, the Davis population is beginning to use the Healthy Davis testing program, and there is no evidence that re-opening schools with county public health expert-approved precautions in place (monitoring, mask use, etc.) has contributed to or created any of these surge conditions that are so concerning. If schools were a vector for COVID-19 in the community, the CDC would not be recommending that elementary schools re-open. Why would they put children in harm’s way?

David urges Davis parents to stop being impatient. We urge him to stop closing your eyes and ears. Listen to Dr. Aimee Sisson, our Yolo County Public Health Officer, who has been tirelessly working to inform our DJUSD leadership about safe reopening conditions for K-6 and has been flat-out rebuffed and denied any conversation. Listen to Dr. Anthony Faucci Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) who repeatedly has urged local governments to open up schools before restaurants and bars: Downtown Davis has outdoor dining once more, but the City Council and DJUSD leadership have refused to work on creative solutions regarding outdoor classroom spaces. Our District leadership is only just moving now on extra-curricular activities, yet every Saturday the City softball field next to City Hall is used by seniors for unmasked softball games with accompanying BBQ and social gathering. Perhaps your concerns about community spread and COVID-19 “impatience” should be directed towards current activities, events, and gatherings that do not meet public health expert directions.

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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20 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Stop Being Patient When It Comes to Re-Opening Schools”

  1. Tia Will

    I feel there are indeed many both scientifically supported and locally appropriate comments made in this article. There are also some points of oversimplification that are not being addressed and some probably unintentional changes of person that affect the impact of the assertion.

    I will start with the latter. The authors state:

    1. “However, it’s a false choice to suggest that teachers either risk their lives in the classroom or stay remote, it’s a balance of risks which we all do every day with this virus.

    Do I go to the store? Do I have a repairman in my house? Do I go to the doctor for a check-up?

    Note the change from the third person “teachers” in the first sentence to the use of the first person in the second sentence. This is a common shift in those who conflate the personal choices that we each make about acceptable risk in our own lives, for our own families, and those that may apply to others we are pressuring to take risks we want them to take. Certainly, many teachers will not be risking their lives. But it is equally true that some will. Older teachers, teachers with chronic illnesses, teachers with immune deficiencies may well be risking their lives, and some have died.

    2. “That means the majority of parents want an option for their children to return safely to school”. 

    IMO the keyword in this sentence is “safely”. Safety is a complicated issue. First, nowhere in this article did the authors differentiate between K-6, middle school, and high school risks which can be quite different both because of the ability to maintain small class sizes and/or pods, the transmissibility between groups, and the compliance of the students with the recommendations. For just one example, my son is a sports trainer at a Sacramento High School. There, neither the coaching team nor the students take pandemic precautions seriously. He can have immediately counseled students in conditioning to keep their distance and masks on, only to have them resume unsafe practices as soon as his back is turned. This clearly is not “safe” conditions, but it is human behavior on the ground. The last thing we need IMO is the pattern we have seen in Yolo County twice so far. That pattern is a loosening of restrictions because the business community, or church community, or in this case a parental community assures re-opening can be done “safely”, only to have a subsequent surge.

    3, Finally, I would challenge the notion that those of us who are urging caution, especially given the identification of the B117 variant in our community, have no metric. The metrics have been well laid out in the color codes currently being used by the state. We are currently in the purple level and I am hard-pressed to see how making a major change while in a level at which the community spread is known to be extensive, represents much concern about “safety”. A further reassuring metric might be the vaccination of a certain percentage of the population. The actual calculations I would leave in the capable hands of Dr. Sisson, who while she is an advocate for school openings, is a true advocate for doing that “safely”. I would urge those parents who have not been doing so, to personally attend the BOS updates on COVID-19 as well as the Health Council updates for a potentially broader perspective about what “safety” entails and how it is being assessed and promoted.


  2. Alan Miller

    Biden said we need improved ventilation in all schools in order to reopen.  I blame the air systems lobby.

    I’m not taking a side on this (science vs. science – no, fake science!  No, your science is fake!  Neener Neener), but it’s good to see alternate view (to DV) articles here always.  I hope that among the cha-cha-cha-changes that is more common.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Until recently, you (and a few others) have spent a great deal of energy arguing with those who present opposing views. (And, sometimes attacking them personally, and/or allowing them to be attacked.)

        To the point where another Davis blog was created.

        I’m not sure that you realize the degree of ill-will you’ve created, among some.  That’s why it’s “hard” for you to get opposing articles, on here. You’ve burned some bridges.

  3. Tia Will

    There are very valid questions being asked and points being made about the safety and timing of school openings. Would it really be impossible to stay on that topic?

    Perhaps those who take issue with the Vanguard format and practices might want to write an article about that subject.

    1. Ron Oertel

      They have.  On a different blog, of course.

      In my opinion, you’d fit-in better on there, as well.

      But if one is going to wish that more opposing articles are submitted on here (per David’s comment), it seems appropriate to address a primary reason that this hasn’t occurred.

      1. Bill Marshall

        …. it seems appropriate to address a primary reason that this hasn’t occurred.

        And what would that reason be? You use a specific “a”, yet you don’t expound… why not?  What has that to do with the topic at hand?  Will you hold to the 5 comment limit, or test its limits, as last time the ‘rule’ was implemented?

        You have 3 left on this thread/topic… I have 4… mine, with the exception of this, will be “on topic”… will yours?  If not, why not? Please explain your answers, if any…

  4. Ron Oertel

    From today’s Sacramento Bee:

    I had zero faith in their plan and back-to-school schedule,” Sanders said. “The school (teachers) union doesn’t have the kids’ best interests at heart, sadly.”

    Already disillusioned with California politics, Sanders felt the prolonged school closures were unnecessary, especially given that many students across the country returned to campuses.

    She applied for a job in Austin, Texas. She moves in March. And she’s enrolling her children in a school where they will be attending full day, in-person classes everyday.

    Sacramento CA students transfer to private schools amid COVID | The Sacramento Bee (

    There’s “that” city again (Austin). 🙂

    Though seems to me that a primary reason for the push to re-open schools is due to parents’ desires (and not necessarily “for the kids”), since both parents (for the most part) need to work these days.  And the “free childcare” service that school provides has been yanked-out, from under them.

    I do know someone who had a wealthy-enough spouse to enable her to stay at home, teaching her own kids quite successfully. (My impression was that the kids had a better education than that provided by public schools.)


    1. Alan Miller


      I know a family in Palo Alto who were fully employed there, but had three young children.  They moved to Austin in October so their kids could have in-person learning.  They said zoom learning doesn’t work for small children.  Period.

      They might come back after the pandemic.  Maybe.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I was referring to home-schooling, pre-pandemic.  Before Zoom even became a “thing”.

        But it does require a fully-committed and available parent. And hopefully, one “smarter than a fourth-grader”, as they say. (Or, one willing to brush-up on their own skills, along the way.)

  5. Ron Glick

    “No one is disagreeing that everyone deserves a vaccine. Grocery workers, daycare providers, migrant laborers, food processing workers, emergency response personnel also deserve peace of mind after the last 12 months.”

    Would you leave your children in the custody of any of the above besides the daycare providers for six hours a day? As a retired teacher I find this assertion to be  disrespectful of the work teachers do.

    Teachers have college degrees and professional training. They are licensed by the state. Most have many years of experience in both subject matter and dealing with the social emotional and behavioral needs of children.

    Its easy for others to tell teachers what risks they should take but I honestly can’t tell you what I would do if I was still teaching and ordered back to the classroom. Would I go back to the classroom, try to take a leave of absence or retire? It would depend on my circumstances. My sense is if you force the issue you will likely get people choosing each of the above. So in the end you would end up with a smaller, less experienced workforce.

    I once had a kid cough on me and a day later I was down for a week with pneumonia so my experience tells me to be cautious. I know its not the same but it is a personal cautionary tale.

    There is actually an easy solution. Instead of going to the school board your parent group should go to the County Health Department and demand that teachers get priority vaccination. We are only talking about a few thousand teachers and support staff in Yolo County so if we added them to the list of those eligible for vaccination this could be achieved quickly and then the schools could be reopened safely.

    1. Tia Will

      Instead of going to the school board your parent group should go to the County Health Department and demand that teachers get priority vaccination. We are only talking about a few thousand teachers and support staff in Yolo County so if we added them to the list of those eligible for vaccination this could be achieved quickly and then the schools could be reopened safely.”

      Please do not forget that until there is enough vaccine for all, each immunization you give to any individual, is one taken away from someone else. I touched on this issue when discussing the impending arrival of large numbers of farmworkers in an earlier article. This is not an easy decision and I do not believe groups should form lobbying groups to try to sway the County Health Officer, whose task is hard enough as it is. Who amongst us wants to make the decision that ends up resulting in someone’s death as will inevitably be the case?


      1. Bill Marshall

        Who amongst us wants to make the decision that ends up resulting in someone’s death as will inevitably be the case?

        A bit melodramatic?

        In major ’emergencies’, ER folk have to do that all the time… called “triage” I believe, but have little medical background…

        Science should be the guide, not ‘politics’, and I think you agree, Tia… I might be incorrect…

        But, another commenter Ron G) has suggested no schools should reopen without 100% vaccination of teachers (note, that poster said nothing about the priorities for school staff, including custodians who have much more total exposure than teachers…  that poster did not acknowledge the ‘hybrid model’ where teachers, students/parents could decide to ‘reopen’ to the extent they wish, and those who don’t, can continue with the distance learning model.

        CTA (teachers union) is now airing TV ads asserting “teachers first!”, before even doing a hybrid model… yet there are a lot of teachers who are ‘anti-vaxxers’… go figure… ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’ as any English/Lit teacher should know…

        Only other alternative is, no one gets the vaccine until everyone can… and we indefinitely shut down nearly everything… until everyone feels 100.75% safe.  A dystopia…

        2/5, (3 left) so I compressed comments re:  Tia and Ron G postings into one post… perhaps, the “new normal”…


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