Dr. Sundari Mase
Dear California Leaders,
We simply cannot open schools right now. Just read the SVUSD and Santa Rosa plans for returning to the classroom and I see no way to create “a low risk environment for students and staff” (the #1 essential goal according to the plan).
As a strong believer in Science I am currently monitoring the Covid death rate for 5-17 year olds which is zero, a very good thing however as a 55-year old with a death rate of 1.4% it is simply not worth the risk to return to the classroom. Also, many school employees are in more dangerous categories where the rate is higher (overall death rate for California is 2.3%). We have been sheltering in place for four months now and with the current rates of transmission and the many unknowns, it makes no sense to transition now into a classroom.
Life trumps school. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that to colleagues who refuse to take sick days because they have a project to complete with students in class or their child needs a day off or they are just feeling crappy. Most teachers feel huge guilt at missing days in the classroom. I have banked 300 hours of sick leave for this reason and the first calculation I did after reading the above plans was to figure how many days 300 hours would cover. I am not alone in this thinking.
The district has done a wonderfully extensive job of creating ways to return to the classroom but they are ignoring the elephant in the room. We all want to go back, I yearn to be coaching the golf team and re-energizing my alternative students after a Whack a Doodle Doo ending to the last school year (I had an overall 45% participation rate). But a partial return in the middle of the crisis with 81-pages of recommendations will create way more problems than it will solve.
How will I create equity for all students when some have more resources than others? How will I teach my various subjects? How will I test for asymptomatic carriers? Social distancing? PPE’s? My own safety? How will I coach sports?
I love having a great deal of autonomy in my classroom. After 25 years teaching alternative education I have learned to adapt to many situations and I like to move fast and break things. I could develop a system for teaching and coaching in the fall but we have to look at the reality of what is best for the student. There are still too many unknowns for us to safely return at this time.
Which leaves two choices, more distance learning or postponing class until a vaccine is available. 22 vaccines are currently in human trials with two ready soon; AstraZeneca will begin emergency vaccines by October and Sinopharm is in phase 3 of human trials. Unfortunately, nothing is guaranteed, and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Distance learning is crisis learning. It was fine as a Band-Aid to get us through the end of last year but it is flawed because resources are unequal. Sure we can give out Wi-Fi hotspots and Chrome books but we cannot provide an equal playing field for learning anywhere but in the classroom.
Which means postponing fall semester until a vaccine is approved and ready for distribution. Yes it’s dramatic and yes it will cause problems but not as many as trying to restart classes with so many unknowns.
The amount of pushback and frustration will be huge in the next month as people contemplate the realities of a hybrid schedule. Other countries have relied on how much the virus is circulating in the community to determine their schedules, we should do the same and judging by the numbers right now, there is just too much risk.
My life is more important than opening schools. Teachers have died in Sweden and other European countries and it will happen here. There are no easy answers and the situation is in need of rational leaders who do not prioritize profits over people.
If I do return to the classroom in a month I will hold all classes outside, follow all protocol and require masks on all students and staff. I will continue to avoid enclosed spaces as people who trust science have done for the last four months. I will not be surprised when outbreaks occur, students and staff are quarantined and the system breaks down.
Is it worth it? That’s the only question that really matters.
Math, Science and Art Teacher Creekside High School
Golf and Tennis Coach Sonoma Valley High School