Half Moon Bay High School P.E. teacher Brian Anderson can’t yet imagine how a return to on-campus school will look for his students. In a normal year, up to 45 of his students might be in one class together, sharing sports equipment and mats and using locker rooms and weight rooms all together. He knows, with the risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, his classroom has to look a lot different next year, but just how a safe reopening might be possible is still unclear.
“There are a lot of questions on the P.E. front,” Anderson said. “I haven’t heard anyone talk about us yet.”
With just a month before school is scheduled to start and a yet-to-be-approved plan just released, Cabrillo Unified School District teachers like Anderson want to know how the start of school will come together in time. They also want to know whether their voices will be part of the conversation. Across California and the United States, teachers are asking the same questions: How can we create the safest and most effective learning environment for our students while keeping ourselves and our families safe?
At the statewide level, California Teachers Association said, with the current resources, public schools aren’t ready to reopen safely. Teachers in San Jose say they won’t go back until there’s enough money for personal protective equipment and sanitization. Cabrillo Unified Teachers Association has yet to make a statement regarding the return to school in the fall, but union leaders are headed into negotiations during a closed-session board meeting on Wednesday.
While each Cabrillo teacher holds a unique opinion about the best solution for a fall return, a common concern revolves around logistics.
Anderson doesn’t feel ready for an in-person return to school. He wasn’t part of the planning committee, which included teachers but was limited to around 30 participants, but said he reached out to express his opinions and concerns. He worries that not enough site- and classroom-specific planning has begun.
“I would have expected, at this point or even before we ended the last school year, we would have gotten together to try to bounce ideas off each other,” Anderson said. “We weren’t given that opportunity.”
Hatch Elementary School first-grade teacher Abby Foster doesn’t feel comfortable returning to school in person yet either, and said many other teachers she’s spoken to feel similarly. One reason is trust. Foster worries that executing the health orders, like sanitization requirements, is a bigger undertaking than the district is currently able to execute.
“We just can’t relax,” Foster said. “We always feel like we have to be doublechecking. You don’t want to get to the start of school and discover things aren’t in place.”
Misty Veloso, Hatch Elementary School kindergarten teacher and elementary teacher representative on the district’s Return to School Committee, hopes the recently released return to school proposal, which delays any in-person instruction until September at the earliest and gives teachers a full week of preparation time, addresses some of these concerns. She calls the plan a “dimmer switch,” allowing reopening over careful phases. It’s her hope that the plan not only captures community concerns about returning to school during a pandemic, but also gives everyone — particularly teachers — ample time to prepare and adjust.
“Nobody wants to be in the position we were in in March,” Veloso said. “We want to be prepared. We want to go into it thoughtfully and have more of a plan.”
Also on the reopening committee is high school science teacher Joseph Centoni, who, alongside his colleagues, had to quickly adjust and figure out how to teach hands-on lessons like labs remotely. He hopes the district can utilize outdoor space and come up with other creative ideas to make instruction effective.
But ultimately, Centoni said, teachers, parents and students need to recognize that fall reopening under any plan won’t be the same as normal school, with students masked, socially distanced and unable to share materials and do work in groups.
“The big thing missing from this discussion is what school will actually look like, and what things we’ll be able to do given the new parameters,” Centoni said. “People haven’t really thought that through.”