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.
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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