Teachers in the Lodi Unified School District want to return to campus, but some believe administration’s push to reopen schools by November is rushed.
“There is not one teacher that does not value in-person instruction or believes it is not the best way to learn,” Lodi Education Association president Michelle Orgon said. “However, no teacher or staff should be put at risk to the possible loss of life or some other health risk when we return to campus. Teachers want to teach, but we shouldn’t be put at risk like this.”
Last week, the district’s board of education discussed the possibility of having students go back to in-person instruction on campus in a staggered model where day programs such as special education, independent study and the Valley Robotics Academy return to schools first.
About a week later, all elementary students would return to campus, and middle school students would return to school a week after that.
The district’s four comprehensive high schools — Bear Creek, Lodi, McNair and Tokay — would have students return to campus when the second semester begins in January.
Initially, the district suggested special day programs return to school on Nov. 2, with elementary and middle school students returning Nov. 9 and 16, respectively. Fixed dates for return were scrapped when the board decided to meet with labor union leaders to listen to their concerns and receive feedback before having students set foot on campus. Orgon said the LEA is scheduled to meet with the board on Thursday.
While some teachers have addressed the board at meetings stating many want to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, others have been pleading to wait until the county has effectively stopped the spread of COVID-19.
Orgon said there is no decisive consensus among members whether to return to campus immediately or wait until the spring semester. However, LEA was sending a survey to its members to gauge a consensus and present results either at the Oct. 20 regular board meeting or the Oct. 22 discussion with district officials. Orgon said one of the factors making teachers hesitant to return to campus is the lack of a comprehensive safety plan that will keep faculty, staff and students safe.
During a special board meeting last week, the district said it has the necessary personal protective equipment available for faculty, staff and students, including hand sanitizer, soap and paper towels, disinfectant supplies and no-touch thermometers. Hand-washing stations will be installed at all campuses, face coverings will be provided to staff, and disposable masks will be given to students who may not have one when they arrive on campus, the district said.
Plastic desk shields have been ordered for both teachers and students, hand sanitizer has been ordered for all district buses, and portable air filters have been ordered for each classroom, the district said. Orgon said while teachers appreciate the stockpiling of personal protective equipment, there is no safety plan in place for schools or each level of instruction.
“The plan the district has developed is not really known. It hasn’t been cleared with employees,” she said. “We believe they should have a plan that tells us when we know our rooms are going to be cleaned continually.”
In a message to the LUSD community last week, superintendent Dr. Cathy Nichols-Washer said the district has been planning a procedure for having students return to campuses since they were closed in March. She said the district is ready to welcome students back.
“All of our schools have put together site specific safety plans in preparation for the different operational levels our district may face during this pandemic,” Washer said. “The district also has exposure protocols, social distancing protocols, thermometer protocols (and) common disinfecting protocols. Staff are to self-screen for symptoms before going to work. Parents are to screen their children for symptoms before sending them to school when in-person instruction resumes.”
A draft document detailing in-person instruction under health orders will be presented to the board tonight. Washer said she will address processes and protocols for in-person instruction such as distancing practices, health screenings, and exposure/positive case protocols.
The document can be found online at www.lodiusd.net/covid19.
“The safety of our students and staff is at the very core of all of the plans we have implemented during this pandemic,” she said.
Orgon said a safety plan needs to address more than just following mandated health and safety protocols, and must include recommendations for controlling the flow of traffic in drop-off and pick-up zones, or how students with existing health issues can obtain their medication on campus, all while maintaining social distancing. There also isn’t a plan detailing what happens in the event a student or a teacher are exposed to COVID-19 or become sick from the virus, Orgon said.
“To rush something like this, I think is irresponsible,” she said.
Tokay High teacher Jen Cassel said the district’s message to the community late Friday was deceptive, as no safety protocol plan has been shared with teachers to her knowledge. She said passing a list of ordered personal protective equipment off as a plan to the public was shameful.
“No teacher I know has seen these plans,” she said. “Very few people know what these plans actually are.”
In terms of a consensus of when to return to campus, Cassel said teachers are split between those who want to go back to campus immediately, those who are airing caution, and those who are completely scared and are contemplating leaving the district. Cassel said the debate over who wants to return now or later has given the public a misconception that teachers are holding up the reopening of campuses.
She noted one speaker during last week’s special board meeting, who was angry district students were not back in school. The speaker suggested teachers who do not want to return to campus for in-person instruction could be replaced by employees of local businesses who have been at work through the entire pandemic.
“Every teacher is very disappointed that we’re left holding the bag with the reason schools aren’t being reopened,” she said. “And the district has allowed that to be the perception. We have 1,700 people in this community running these schools, how do we become the villains in this?”
Board president Joe Nava said he and his colleagues were staunch supporters of the district’s teachers, noting how they always highlight the positive aspects of goings-on in the LUSD community.
Addressing last week’s speaker that suggested replacing teachers, Nava said the board is not allowed to respond to public comment during meetings. He noted the speaker’s comments were the only ones negatively directed at the district’s teachers.
“Every time we have a meeting, we have praise for everyone, and it’s always positive,” he said. “There’s never anything negative.
Today’s meeting begins at 7 p.m., and can be viewed on the board’s YouTube channel.