Sunday Commentary: School Reopening Polling Data is Tricky, As Proponents Bank on the Issue to Drive Recall of Newsom

By David M. Greenwald

Everyone wants to get students back at school, but the key is it has to be safe.  Proponents of restarting now will point to methods that have been used—the CDC and other guidelines and the Yolo County Public Health Official who say that with proper precautions it is safe to get back on campus.

I continue to support the DJUSD guide lines for restarting—I understand the data, I also have seen what happens when we try to rush things getting back.  It is better to be risk averse with this virus, given how much we don’t know and how twice it has come back with a vengeance after infection rates dropped.

Two weeks ago, Yolo County Public Health Officer Aimee Sisson urged elementary schools to re-open, but was more cautious about high schools and athletics.  She told the Yolo County Board of Supervisors that elementary schools could be open in a hybrid format with universal masking and six feet or more of distancing between students.

While CDC said that “access to vaccination should not be considered a condition for reopening schools for in-person instruction,” teachers have a different view.

The DJUSD return-to-school plan for elementary schools is a hybrid that includes the above-mentioned guidelines but also a return to red tier for two weeks, teachers with the opportunity to be vaccinated, and filters and air purifiers installed in the rooms as well.

Is that really an unreasonable approach, given the health risks to high risk as well as older people?  I don’t think so.

Politics has played a huge role in driving the response to this pandemic—I would argue in a disconcerting way, given that we should be driven by science and perhaps risk aversion.

In an op-ed from a few weeks ago, Anoosh Jorjorian, Audrey Pan, Cynthia Pickett and Ryan Davis, wrote: “We are almost over the finish line!  We need to meet just two conditions: reduce cases and give school employees the opportunity to be vaccinated. If current conditions continue, we will meet the former criteria soon.”

They add, “We know, first-hand, how difficult, frustrating and exhausting it has been to try to balance work, distance learning and life while making so many sacrifices for the greater good. Teachers and families alike are eager to be able to see each other in person. Prioritizing the vaccination of adults who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 while working in the classroom is the key to opening as soon as we can and as safely as we can.”

As Tristan Leong in an op-ed in the Vanguard on behalf a number of Davis residents wrote, “our School Board officials and staff did not prepare and are not prioritizing a to return to in-person learning this year.”

They add, “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.”

All of this is now playing out statewide and, to a lesser extent now, nationally.

Opponents of Gavin Newsom are pounding on the issue of school reopening, believing that they have an issue they can use as a wedge to gain their outcome, but if the recent polling by PEW Research is accurate, it may be more complicated than they think.

One thing is clear, comparing July 2020 to February 2021—the landscape has shifted on this issue.  Back in July, 48 percent of respondents were most concerned about the possibility students will fall behind academically without in-person instruction, and that number is now 61 percent.

The reverse has happened on the risk of students and teachers, with the concern about teachers spreading COVID dropping from 60 percent to 48 percent and the risk of students getting or spreading the virus dropping from 61 to 45 percent.

Basically, in the last seven months those numbers have flipped.  It’s not overwhelming, but it is real.  That makes sense as we have learned more about how to protect ourselves from the virus and we have learned more about the role of children in community spread.

At the same time, the nearly 60 percent of the public says “K-12 schools that are not currently open for in-person instruction should wait to reopen until all teachers who want the coronavirus vaccine have received it. By comparison, 40% say these schools should reopen as soon as possible, even if many teachers who want the vaccine haven’t received it.”

The rub is that is remarkably close to the actual policy in places like DJUSD.  That also puts the public closer to where CTA and the other teachers’ unions stand.

Newsom is being pulled both ways.  Republicans are attacking him on the school issue while the unions are pushing back.

“On the one hand, he’s facing tremendous pressure from the public,” said Theresa Montaño, a former CTA leader and California State University, Northridge, education professor. “And on the other side you have classroom teachers who, while they want nothing more than to be closer to their students, are also in more vulnerable positions.

“I think this has become a politicized issue,” Montaño added, with recall backers “using this as an opportunity to go after the governor.”

But the CTA is not a wilting violet here.  This week, the CTA launched a major TV ad campaign that warned against reopening schools before it is safe, “including prioritizing vaccines for educators”—a critical sticking point in negotiations.

On the other hand, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, is building his campaign for governor on school reopening.

But the partisan splits here are worth noting.  Nearly 80 percent of Democrats think schools should wait to reopen until all teachers who want the coronavirus vaccine have received it.  Two-thirds of Republicans say schools should reopen as soon as possible.

The numbers here suggest a recall will be unlikely to succeed, and a major re-opening in April could dry up a lot of the opposition here to begin with.  But we will see.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    I find it loathsome that the pandemic is being used for political opportunism. I would say the following regardless of which party held the governorship.

    Recall IMO should be reserved for actual malfeasance in office. Not for strongly held differences of opinion. We have a mechanism for the latter. It is called an election.

    1. Bill Marshall


      I can say that, agreeing with your words, but will do my best to vote him out of office in ~ 2 years, if the recall is certified, and unless there is no reasonable/viable .. his political actions, beliefs, not malfeasance…

      I wonder about the vote to ‘impeach’/recall Gray Davis… he was a jerk, not terribly bright, but probably what ‘brought him down’ was being a ‘moderate’, not malfeasance or committing a crime in office… he wanted to be ‘all things to all people’ (sticking finger into the breeze to see where his political fortunes lay)… no real ethics/morals … Gavin Newsom is the same… so, logically, Gray Davis should not have been recalled, or it is logical that Newsom will be…

      [most moderates have strong ethics and morals, but some are ‘conservative’, and some are ‘liberal’ morals and ethics]

      I did not sign the petition, although tempted, as some of his views/positions/actions are very contrary to mine… but IF the petition is approved, IF there is a viable replacement, either party, or Ind., I’ll vote to recall… to paraphrase a Billy Joel song, ‘I didn’t start that fire’… [one of my favorite songs, many levels…]

  2. Don Shor

    The group that is promoting Newsom’s recall, the Patriot Coalition, believes that the governor has no constitutional right to limit our behavior in times of pandemic. In fact, they don’t believe any level of government can tell us how to behave during a pandemic. 

    Is that something we want to support by recalling Newsom? For doing what I think most of us agree is, in fact, a role of government: to take action during time of emergency to protect the citizens?

    These are actually ‘sovereign citizen’ folks. If you aren’t familiar with that mindset, I suggest you acquaint yourselves with it before you cast a vote that might propel them to greater influence in our state.

    Interesting to note that this whole thing was spearheaded by a former Yolo County sheriff’s deputy.

    I won’t be voting for the recall because I think it is totally inappropriate. I won’t be voting for any of the people who want to replace him, because I will make my decision about his continuing in office when his term is up in 2022.

    The recent financial backing provided by the Republican Party to the recall effort reflects their recognition that it is literally the only way they will get a candidate elected in this state at this time. It’s a cynical ploy to ride the recall effort into office, since they know that the ‘jungle primary’ system we now have completely shuts them out of office. 

    Newsom will probably survive the recall if it gets on the ballot. He’ll surely run for reelection, and will probably prevail by at least 5 – 10%. 


    1. Bill Marshall

      With all due respect, Don, the reasons the ‘petitioners’ have, are not necessarily (and, in our case, are NOT) reasons why some could vote to recall… just because the oncologist is a jerk is no reason avoid having a procedure done.

      A cyst is a cyst… be it malignant or just annoying/uncomfortable.

    2. Alan Miller

      Yes, DS, we all know what the trick will be that will keep Newsom from getting recalled – scare people into believing that ‘Trump-like’ people are behind this and will take over the state.  And it will work.

  3. Don Shor

    scare people

    Inform people

    into believing that ‘Trump-like’ people are behind this

    They are.

    and will take over the state

    A recall is their only chance of getting one of their ilk elected due to the wide-open nature of the replacement vote and the fact that it only takes a plurality to win.

    If you don’t like Newsom, he’ll likely be on the ballot in a normal election in 2022.


    1. Bill Marshall

      If you don’t like Newsom, he’ll likely be on the ballot in a normal election in 2022.

      A “normal” election, means party loyalties (aka, ‘party discipline’) will effectively prohibit any Democrat from running aginst him, no matter how badly he screws up.  So, considering state voting demographic, he pretty much is guaranteed a second term.

      The recall opens the field to Democrats, just as much as Republicans, who seem hell-bent to further the likelihood that the recall vote will fail, and/or that there won’t be a snowballs chance in Hell of a conseravtive Republican to be elected to replace him…  this based on published comments made at the CPAC meeting, reported out today in the Bee…

      And, worst case scenario, a conservative Republican would be facing super-majorities of Democrats in the Assembly, and State Senate… political impotence…

        1. Bill Marshall

          Remember that both questions will be asked on the same day, on the same ballot… the possibilities of the second answer may well define the answer for the first, for many, including me.

    2. Alan Miller

      If you don’t like Newsom, he’ll likely be on the ballot in a normal election in 2022.

      For yet another hellish Biden vs. Trump non-choice due to the broken state and voting system.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Ahhh… choice voting?  Am open to that, but not convinced for races that have only one outcome… (actually, more in favor when it comes to multiple vacancies, but that’s pretty much gone ‘bye-bye’)… thanks to ‘districting’, locally…

        The positive thing of ‘choice voting’, to me, is the opportunity to get a third party, and/or independents and break the cycle we’re in… those elected to office should serve all the public, not just their base… and they should be principled, ethical, while still acting on their publically known consciences… not just following political winds for their own ends…

        Unless you are one of those who question the integrity of elections… if that is what you meant, my ears are basically closed…

        1. Alan Miller

          I meant choice voting.

          I am more concerned with the appearance and confidence in elections as to your closed ear point, than integrity itself.  i.e., we need to improve, make-transparent and lock down our voting system so there isn’t the ability of people to claim fraud.

  4. Bill Marshall

    Newsom is being pulled both ways.  Republicans are attacking him on the school issue while the unions are pushing back.

    A leader, one worthy of leading, recognizes when “it’s time to fish or cut bait”… not waiting to wet finger, put it in the air, and see which way the political wind is blowing… Newsom needs to “fish or cut bait”, or stand aside for a true ‘leader’ to emerge…

    Newsom could, if recalled, find a new career in opening a IHOW (intentional house of “waffles”)… like the ‘one who will not be mentioned’… they share many traits…

    We need a leader, even if we disagree with specific items… Newsom needs to “step up” or “stand down”… just my opinion…

  5. Bill Marshall

    i.e., we need to improve, make-transparent and lock down our voting system so there isn’t the ability of people to claim fraud.

    Make transparent… it already is… witness the number of poll-watchers, who can watch pretty much every step of the process… even transport of votes always have to have 2 witnesses (not necessarily poll-watchers)…

    Lock down the voting system… a lot of conservatives are trying to do that, with the goal of making voting more difficult, particularly for minorities… 3 forms of ID every election?  Finger-prints? Retinal scans?  DNA?

    Ability of people to claim fraud… repeal 1st amendment?  I could sue you for embezzlement of my bank funds… meritless, would be thrown out of court… just like all the filed claims of fraud in the 2020 elections… but I could still make the claim… just like Q-Anon makes its claims…

    I see no possible answer to the problem you seek to solve…

  6. Moderator

    Just a reminder:

    Effective Feb 15 2021 there is a limitation on comments per article—five comments per article per commenter. 

    I’m not going to remove the ones that went over this time. Just please no more comments on this topic from those of you who exceeded the limit.


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