Advocacy Safe Schools

Parent Letter Template—We Demand Safe Schools!

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.

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Advocate for Safe Reopening of Schools

View this letter in GoogleDoc here:

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]

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.



Other Resources

Check out this set of links below to see

2 thoughts on “Parent Letter Template—We Demand Safe Schools!

  1. I hear your points, BUT I have real concerns about parents who both need to work to stay financially alive, who cannot just hire someone to watch/teach their kids or aren’t lucky enough to have family who can help out, who do not work remotely. This is not a small number of parents! Also for parents of young kids, it’s a joke. Have you tried to get a 5 year old to sit through a poorly organized Zoom class meeting? Have you had to try to get a kid who can’t read very well to do the online work while you’re trying to juggle keeping a baby from doing something dangerous on top of work meetings. And we’re lucky to have jobs, and what’s more, jobs that can be remote. Basically further extension of this plan puts many parents in the position of having to choose their kids care/education over their jobs… which they need for their livelihood. What are your plans for those kids?

    Those kids get very little educational support or even care, and may not even learn much. And the parents, already overworked, have to basically forego sleep in order to even do a little “teaching” each day. The distance learning in the spring was the very best the individual teachers could do, but still sorely lacking, because the district was not ready and is under resourced. Not to mention the wide disparity in technology and internet access which makes just widens the educational gap between different races and economic classes even further!

    Child care for essential workers in the spring was a good bandaid for schools being closed, but if you are really extending remote learning (whether full-time or part-time) for a while (which is sounds like), what are you doing to make sure kids of under resourced parent(s) who have to work full-time are cared for, but also are maintaining their education at a sufficient level?

    1. As the mom of twins, I always say I “survived” their toddler days. I get it and don’t have the answer. But opening up schools that will surely be opening and closing based on COVID cases and a lack of testing and contact tracing is just as disruptive, if not more so. I’m hearing from families who have participated in summer camps that had COVID cases it was a nightmare to navigate all this. These are surely problems that need to be addressed at a higher level. Schools, unfortunately, cannot fix all of societies ills. And as an educator, I KNOW what is and isn’t possible currently for our schools in meeting CDC guidelines. Based on operable windows and transportation alone, there is no way we could guarantee that in reopening schools we wouldn’t be putting students, their families, and the greater community at risk.

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