By Terry Miller
As the easing of coronavirus restrictions continues, so does the controversy over opening schools. In recent weeks, numerous parent groups have voiced their annoyance with the lack of definitive plans to reopen schools. Citing multiple reasons, including students’ mental and physical health, parents and back-to school advocates are growing exponentially frustrated.
The school year is approaching its end and there is dwindling hope among those who wish to reopen schools that students will return to campuses before summer. Los Angeles County has met state guideline to resume in-person lessons for PK-sixth grade but has not yet reached the threshold of seven new daily cases per 100,000 residents to resume in-person lessons for grades seven to 12.
A group of open school now advocates have created a website, laschooluprising.com, and are demanding that Los Angeles schools must open for in-person instruction this semester.
“We, the parents and students of LAUSD and Los Angeles County Schools demand that the Governor, the Mayor, the Superintendent, the School Board and the UTLA find a way to safely reopen in-person classes and activities to all students who wish to attend this upcoming semester,” the group says on their website. “Dooming kids to an inferior education for months while waiting for total vaccine coverage is not an acceptable strategy, goes against all scientific guidance, is at odds with international practice and causes massive collateral damage to children, who are by far the least at risk to suffer severe cases of Covid infection (infection fatality rate (IFR) age 0-20: .001%).”
The group is making the one-year anniversary of schools closing by an in-person rally, on Friday, March 12 in coordination with statewide groups who are part of Open Schools California.
In Arcadia, the plans are still unclear. Mark Budde, a grassroots organizer for getting kids back to school, met with Arcadia School Board members Raymond Cheung and Shirley Yee recently.
“A few days after we demanded a reopening plan by Feb. 23, the district announced that a plan would be unveiled on Feb. 23 but is still avoiding an aspirational reopening date. We were promised that even though our district aggressively avoided making a plan, our schools would reopen as soon as it is legal to reopen. That date was on Tuesday, Feb. 23, and we are still closed for the foreseeable future,” Budde said.
He continued, “We are especially concerned, since schools are the center of our great community, that a loss of faith in our district could cause flight from the city. We are already hearing from parents that they are touring private schools. Arcadia has historically had a great relationship between the parents and the district, which is part of why our schools are so successful. For that reason, we have no public protests planned, but we are hoping for a quick resolution and the ability for our schools to reopen for those parents and teachers that want to return.”
During Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, district officials presented the “Roadmap to Reopening and Safety Plans.” The district has also sent out a “partial return to campus questionnaire.” The district will host a live town hall on March 2 to garner further community input and feedback.
Though scientific data suggests that schools can reopen safely, teachers’ unions and parents, especially those from low-income communities that have been heavily impacted by the pandemic, are concerned that outbreaks might still occur so long as the virus remains widespread in the community.
At a virtual press conference hosted by the California Teachers Association two weeks ago, parents and educators said reopening schools while the virus remains widespread in several counties and as new variants are identified would be “premature.”
“Every day, thousands of people are still getting infected and dying,” said Los Angeles parent Maria Osorio. “It’s too much to return under these conditions.”
Marisela Valasquez, a parent from Fresno said she’s sacred. “I’m scared — for myself, my children and my family, and for teachers and their families.”
“While distance learning is undoubtedly inequitable, the devastation of this virus is inequitable as well,” said Dawniel Carlock-Stewart, a parent of three. “We need to be listening to voices in these communities — not just picking out whatever equity talking points meets our agenda.”
Lisa Delano-Wood, parent and UCSD professor, said: “It’s disingenuous to say this virus only spreads in homes or gatherings. We have no idea what the spread looks like in schools.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: “Schools should determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement each of these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community. It is also critically important to develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community, as this may change rapidly. Strategies should be implemented in close coordination with state, local, or tribal public health authorities, recognizing the differences between school districts, including urban, suburban, and rural districts.”
During a press conference Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom said beginning March 1, the state will start setting aside 10% of COVID-19 vaccines for teachers, childcare workers and daycare workers. The plan will start by setting aside 75,000 doses from the state’s weekly allotment.
“We have 1,000 plus schools that are open, most are operating overwhelmingly well — favorably — without any transmissions,” Newsom said. “There are a few that are exceptions. We gotta do more in enforcement, more in transparency, more support. But at the end of the day, we can do this now as we administer more doses; yes, prioritizing our teachers, more vaccines in people’s arms. But let’s not use ‘perfect’ as an excuse to safely, thoughtfully, judiciously and strategically get our youngest kids back in first.”
As vaccines remain in limited supply, it may take a while before all educators are vaccinated.