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Marin Educators for Safe Schools

All Students Need Safe and Healthy Schools 
Marin County Teacher Leaders Share Safety Concerns and Health Recommendations About School Reopening; Frustrated by Lack of Honest Engagement, One-Size-Fits-All Approach

MARIN COUNTYMarin County teacher leaders are extremely concerned about the recent school reopening guidelines issued by Marin County as well as the lack of two-way communication with the county superintendent.

“Safely reopening during a pandemic requires the county and school district administrators and our unions to work together, and negotiate these serious issues prior to school starting this August. 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,” said the educators, who have created a coalition called Marin Educators for Safe Schools.

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 with what amounts to regular class sizes, while also allowing 4 feet of social distance, where practicable. The plans say 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.

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 due to classroom sizes, allowance for age-appropriate behavior, and educational best practices for TK-12 students. This has educators very concerned that COVID-19 will infect students, educators and their families.

“To be clear, our members really want to be back at school with our students, but we are not willing to unnecessarily risk the safety and health of our students, our members or their families to do so,” they said, adding that county administrators are only implementing minimum guidelines. “Our students deserve better.”

On June 22 county administrators finally met with Marin County teacher leaders, giving the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and California Teachers Association (CTA) members only 30 minutes to make their case. Frustrated educators say they were talked at, not listened to, and left with more questions than answers.

The guidelines have caused panic with educators across the county, and local union leaders have fielded dozens of calls from concerned educators who say they are the ones most at risk in the classroom all day with students, not administrators or school board members. “The anxiety for educators is real.”

Local leaders are now taking their case to the public. Marin Educators for Safe Schools, as they call themselves collectively, say guidelines are so vague that it is scary. “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 not to be true in the classroom: 

  • Assumption 1: Children and teenagers always follow rules – Parents and educators know that children and teenagers engage in age-appropriate behaviors, which means rules are not always followed. The county guidelines assume that children and teenagers will always comply with these rules and that educators and parents can enforce these rules. In order for these guidelines to function effectively, they are requiring students to act in a way counter to their normal behavior. This assumption inherently puts students, educators and their families at greater risk of infection.
  • Assumption 2: Schools are able to implement these guidelines with fidelity at all times – Schools are already underfunded, and many district managers are now discussing laying off classified employees. Schools are great institutions of learning, but educators are not trained or structured to implement the guidelines as imagined by the county. Staff do not have the capacity or facilities to allow proper social distancing if all students are on campus at the same time. Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis and Superintendent Burke have already said that students and staff members will get sick even with these guidelines. Educators wonder how bad it will get if they cannot faithfully implement the guidelines at all times.
  • Assumption 3: For students to learn, all schools must reopen for all students five days per week – Educators and district administrators have been working on other models of providing education and meals for students five days per week and also ensuring equitable access for all students. This is possible without schools being open for every student every day. The state permits distance learning as a result of an order or guidance from a state or county public health officer. Our guidance, if followed to minimize health risks, necessitates distance learning. Educators and communities know how to create plans to meet the needs of all students, but this one-size-fits-all approach fails to provide safe and healthy schools and also weakens the educational possibilities for students and educators.

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.

Marin Educators for Safe Schools members say that county guidelines must be based on classroom realities and be designed to keep students, educators and their families as safe as possible so that learning can resume.

Marin Educators for Safe Schools is a coalition of local unions that are affiliated with the310,000-member California Teachers Association and the 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers

#ForOurStudents #schoolreopening #COVIDsafeSchools



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