Worker’s Correspondence: Schools Across the US Reopen, Teachers Voice Opposition

This article has been edited at the request of one of the writers due to misquoting one of the teachers. Tribune of the People extends its apologies to the teacher as well as our readers for the mistake.

By Serran Soledad and Samuel Matteo

School districts across the US are preparing to open back up and hold in-person classes. Tribune of the People, spoke to two teachers who shared the conditions they face as educators holding hybrid classes.

In California, school districts have begun a process of reopening via a hybrid program, which sees time split between in-person learning and virtual distance-learning.

Tribune spoke with an elementary school teacher at the Ventura Unified School District (VUSD), where 16 elementary schools are currently taking part in the hybrid program.

“We came back to school December 7, while the rest of the country was hesitant about going back to class,” the correspondent told Tribune. “I feel like we’re guinea pigs for the elementary schools.”

With a number of students and faculty already exposed to Covid-19 on campuses, VUSD teachers have voiced their discontent to their union, the Ventura Unified Education Association (VUEA).

When surveying half of their 800 members back in September, the VUEA found that 71% voted against hybrid/cohort (small group) teaching, noting concern of an increased workload and greater health risks for teachers, students, and their parents.

Despite the opposition, which has grown to a reported 80% of surveyed members, union leaders have sided with the administration on their decision to move forward with partial reopening, settling with increased precautionary measures for those on campus.

“I’ve seen [VUEA be] too chummy with people – being lenient with the school board,” said the correspondent. “The School Board themselves decided to not do board meetings in person, which is hypocritical because they’ll still send teachers back to school.”

Teachers in the working-class community of Southbridge, MA presented a petition with 133 signatures demanding that the school district transition to a fully remote learning model for the first three weeks of January. The petition was immediately rejected by the district’s superintendent.

An educator interviewed by Tribune said the current policy was to remain hybrid until the number of staff that were either sick or quarantined “made keeping the building open unfeasible,” and that “the district’s contact-tracing policy is really narrow and leads to situations where a student will come to school, go from class to class, test positive that same day, and somehow only one person will be listed as ‘close contact.’”

Southbridge is controlled directly by a state-appointed receiver rather than a locally elected school board or superintendent, this permits the administration to ignore teachers’ demands in favor of the state-created “turnaround plan.” In this case, the school’s administration has faithfully followed Governor Charles Baker’s mandate for students go back to in-person learning, even in community that are classified as “red zone” areas with a “high-risk” of COVID transmission.

Throughout Massachusetts there is a growing conflict between teachers and administration on the question of bringing more students physically back into the classroom. This year teachers have held strikes in the communities of Sharon, Brookline, and Andover, despite it being illegal for teachers to do so.

On December 15, more than 100 Massachusetts teachers’ unions submitted a vote of no confidence against the State Education Commissioner, Jeffrey Riley, due to his handling of pandemic-era education.

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees and Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents submitted a letter demanding that the state step in to “provide leadership at the state level to prevent labor unions from stonewalling reopening plans.”

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