This weekend, I had the opportunity to work with teachers across the country, Stacey Shubitz, Julie Jee, and Sarah Gross, to create a letter that parents and caregivers can customize to contact their local school districts about reopening plans. (Click links to follow them on Twitter!)
These past few months, I’ve been listening to site-leaders, parents, and students across the country. I’m thankful to say that in SF the majority of folks I speak with agree, we cannot reopen schools this fall with a rampant pandemic raging in our communities. #KeepOurKidsSafe
On Tuesday, July 14th at 3 pm, during the Regular Board Meeting, SFUSD staff will present a plan with the recommendation that students resume learning on August 17th remotely, with the hope of reopening schools for focal students (littles, English Learners. students with disabilities, etc) as soon as it is safe to do so.
Rising cases in SF make schools unlikely to open any earlier than October. And the logistics necessary to pull this off (transportation, ventilation, and citywide testing, to name a few) will make even this very challenging.
This next meeting on Tuesday will be an opportunity for Board Members to hear directly from the public and inform the district’s proposed plan. The full plan will not officially be approved until July 28th. That said, it is highly unlikely we will approve any plans other than distance learning for the start of school. (Learn more about the meeting.)
In the meantime, educate yourself and especially those folks you know outside of SFUSD. Many counties across the country are being pressured to open by our president and current Secretary of Education.
This is a national fight, and San Franciscans can do their part by reaching out to friends and family members across the nation. Help them advocate for safe reopening and fully funding (not privatizing) our public education system.
Advocate for Safe Reopening of Schools
View this letter in GoogleDoc here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UZ4Fb1w7KIVLMewrmPTrq2IPTkD0qdhpljD_cjul6Ic/mobilebasic
While the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, many are calling for schools to reopen as normal. However, it is clear to many parents and community members that opening schools will be unsafe for students, staff, and families. While we would all love nothing more than to return to normal, the current spread and transmission rates of COVID-19 make it clear that is not possible. How will districts, facing immense budget cuts, implement the CDC safety guidelines in any meaningful way without additional funding? Even the simplest safety changes will be onerous. For example, allowing for social distancing on school buses will require additional vehicles and drivers, a new schedule for pick-ups and drop-offs, and the funding to pay additional drivers plus additional maintenance and gas costs.
It is clear that providing the necessary safeguards for students and staff will be an immense undertaking for most school districts in this country. In addition, a recent federal report by the Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force says that fully reopening schools remains the “highest risk” for the spread of the coronavirus. Below you will find a template you can use/modify to contact your local school district about their reopening plans. Here you can find a list of resources from other groups/organizations.
-Alison Collins, Sarah Gross, Julie Jee, Stacey Shubitz
Parent COVID-19 Letter Template for CA Schools
(See this GoogleDoc for a generic version you can customize for states other than California.)
Hon. Governor Gavin Newsom
Hon. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon
Hon. Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins
Hon. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond
[DISTRICT] School Board Commissioners [FIRST NAME & LAST NAME]
[DISTRICT] Superintendent [FIRST NAME & LAST NAME]
Honorable California Leaders,
My name is [FIRST & LAST NAME] and I am a resident of [TOWN]. My children are students at [SCHOOL NAME/GRADE LEVEL]. I am a [PARENT/CAREGIVER] who is concerned about [STATE/TOWN/DISTRICT’S] reopening plan. I am writing to ask you to prioritize remote learning rather than reopening school buildings in the coming weeks.
Reopening schools during a global pandemic is a complex task. Many of our buildings have no air conditioning or poorly functioning HVAC systems. Bathrooms often run out of soap and hot water. Hallways and classrooms are often crowded. Many students struggle to follow rules, let alone practicing social distancing or wearing masks.
In the best of times, schools are Petri dishes of illness. Scientists now believe COVID-19 can be aerosolized and HVAC systems may spread the virus. How can we send our children back into classrooms that may be breeding grounds for the virus? How can we risk the lives of children and school staff who are at increased risk? If billion-dollar sports leagues like the NBA and MLB can’t restart without multiple cases of COVID-19, how can we expect underfunded schools to open safely?
If [DISTRICT] plans to reopen buildings, are you prepared to show you can meet the CDC safety requirements before any students or staff enter school buildings? Can you ensure the following:
- All seating is spaced at least six feet apart and that desks remain facing the same direction.
- On school buses, there is only one student per row, skipping rows when possible.
- For communal spaces, students are staggered, and frequently touched surfaces and shared objects are cleaned and disinfected between users.
- All classrooms have operable windows and effective ventilation systems to increase circulation of outdoor air throughout the school day.
- Each school has resources to provide each and every student paper, pencils, manipulatives, scissors, art materials, tablets, computers, and other supplies to minimize sharing, and the staffing to clean and disinfect these supplies between use.
- Students and staff groupings are as static as possible so the same groups of children stay with the same staff all day for young children or as much as possible for older children.
- Arrival and drop-off times are staggered, using various entrance/exit locations to limit contact between student groups and direct contact with parents as much as possible.
Implementing these and other guidelines will require a massive amount of coordination and an influx of funding. The question is not should [DISTRICT] reopen school buildings, but can it be done safely?
With precious lives at stake, district leaders must be able to ensure the safety of each and every person who walks into a school. Teachers and staff should not be asked to risk their lives while schools struggle to implement new safety protocols while trying to teach. Children should not be treated like guinea pigs while educators figure out how to keep them and their families safe. Before any classrooms open, I ask that [DISTRICT] allow parents and community members to review detailed reopening plans and offer parents the opportunity to participate in a “dry run” of reopening.
Educators provide an essential service, but in many cases that service can be provided virtually during this dangerous time. While it is clear that there are students who need in-person related services, these could be some of the students who may be at high risk of contracting COVID-19 because it isn’t mandatory for them to wear a mask. Opening buildings to all students will put those students most in need in danger.
While therapies are far more effective when administered in-person, figuring out how to deliver related services and specially-designed instruction to students remotely would be prudent. Please allow teachers and related services providers to spend this summer analyzing what worked and didn’t work this spring in order to develop a robust model of virtual school that is pedagogically sound.
A recently released report meant for federal public health response teams said fully reopening schools and universities remained the “highest risk” for the spread of the coronavirus.
While I understand it’s important to offer a solution to the community that allows caregivers to go back to work, it is my hope that all members of the community — from the students to the adults with underlying health conditions — are considered when putting forth a plan for the 2020-21 school year. It is ethically and morally wrong to bring students back without clear and proven mechanisms to keep children, and non-teaching staff safe. Even one life lost is too many. While social distancing, masks, and cleaning can help mitigate the risk of COVID-19, remote learning is the only way to ensure the virus doesn’t spread in our schools and out into the larger community.
Check out this set of links below to see
- NJ Parent and Educator NJDOE/Governor Murphy Letter Writing Campaign – New Jersey letter to elected leaders demanding they not reopen schools this fall.
- California Teachers Association letter to State Leaders – This letter urges state leaders to delay in-person reopening of schools
- Spike in coronavirus cases means some schools won’t open at all this fall – EdSource article citing many districts’ decision to implement distance-only learning due to safety concerns.
- Richmond Education Association: Support of Virtual Return to School
- Predictable Logistical Obstacles – A letter to the board from a San Mateo Union High School parent and teacher
- Santa Clara County meeting that exposed 40 principals to coronavirus raises red flags – SF Chronicle article detailing how 40 principals got exposed to COVID during an in-person planning session for reopening schools.
- Letter to State Leaders from Arizona School Board Members – Open letter (in GoogleForm) listing Board of Education members asking states to increase flexibility in meeting guidelines to reopen schools.
- #14daysnonewcases: Teachers: Refuse to Return to Campus – Petition written by an Oakland educator listing demands for a safe return to schools.
- Updated AAP guidance – These recommendations are favored by the Trump administration because they are less restrictive than the CDC guidelines.
- Facebook post from Fairfax County, Va. parent Joe Morice – A FaceBook post debunking common reasons people say schools should reopen this fall.
- CDC: Cases in the US – This CDC website lists current COVID data nationally.
- #sticktothescience Bay Area parents petition – A petition for parents of Bay Area Schools demanding high-quality distance learning over unsafe reopening of schools.
- As Trump Demanded Schools Reopen, His Experts Warned of ‘Highest Risk’ – NYTimes article detailing how Federal materials for reopening schools, shared the week President Trump demanded weaker guidelines to do so, said fully reopening schools and universities remained the “highest risk” for the spread of the coronavirus.
- Teachers and Students Are Not Yours to Sacrifice – A great piece explaining why reopening schools right now should not be an option.