Educators in Marin County are still very cautious about the reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also concerned about the recent school reopening guidelines issued by Marin County as well as the lack of two-way communication with the county superintendent, according to a press release from the American Federation of Teachers.
“If the goal is to open as safely as possible, listening to both classroom professionals and health officials should be the first steps. Collaboration with classroom professionals is key,” stated the educators, who have created the Marin Educators for Safe Schools (MESS), a coalition of local unions that are affiliated with the 310,000-member California Teachers Association (CTA) and the 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers (CFT).
On June 18, Mary Jane Burke, the Marin County superintendent of schools, laid out plans to fully reopen schools, with students attending five days per week in regular class sizes, while also allowing 4 feet of social distance, where practicable. Middle and high schools can combine into even larger cohort sizes, and staff would be permitted to interact with multiple student cohort groups in a day.
Burke said the guidelines are meant to serve as a rule of thumb, but still have enough flexibility for each district and school to adapt as needed if they can satisfy the state’s requirements, reported the Marin Independent Journal.
The teachers point out that these guidelines are not consistent with other guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and, if implemented, would prove impossible to follow with fidelity. Educators are also concerned that COVID-19 will still infect students, educators and their families.
On June 22, county administrators met with Marin County teacher leaders, but the CFT and CTA members were only given 30 minutes to make their case. The frustrated educators said that they were talked at, not listened to, and left with more questions than answers.
MESS says that the guidelines are too vague. “The guidelines fail to require all reasonable safety measures to prevent students and educators from being infected by COVID-19 with possible loss of life. The superintendent cannot convince us that it will be safe.”
The Marin County guidelines for reopening of schools during this pandemic do not create safe and healthy schools, teacher leaders say, because they are based on three assumptions that educators know are not true in the classroom.
• Children and teenagers always follow rules in order for these guidelines to function effectively.
Yet children and teenagers may not always follow the rules. This assumption inherently puts students, educators and their families at greater risk of infection.
• Schools are able to implement these guidelines with fidelity at all times.
Yet schools are already underfunded, classified employees may be laid-off, and teachers are not trained or instructed on how to implement the guidelines as imagined by the county. Students and staff members can still get sick even with these guidelines.
• All schools must reopen five days per week for all students to learn.
But this one-size-fits-all approach can fail to provide safe and healthy schools and weaken the educational possibilities for students and educators. Educators and district administrators have been working on other models of providing education, such as using distance learning, while also ensuring equitable access for all students without schools having to be open for every student every day. They are also trying to provide meals for students five days per week.
Teacher leaders say they will offer solutions as part of the bargaining process and plan to engage parents so the community can work together for safe and healthy schools for students and their families. Parents who reached out to teachers say they are outraged and will stand with school employees.
“Administrators and the county superintendent need to address our real concerns through the bargaining process before unilaterally moving ahead with opening schools,” say educators.