Photo: Andrew Reed/EdSource
This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. to include comments from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In a fierce rebuttal to the Trump administration’s push for all children to return to school in the fall in the face of spreading coronavirus infections, California’s largest teachers union is declaring bluntly that “California cannot reopen schools unless they are safe.”

In a strongly worded letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Newsom, legislative leaders and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, the leadership of the California Teachers Association, representing about 310,000 teachers, said that the recent surge in infections “gives us pause around the state’s preparedness for safe in person school instruction in a short six to eight week time frame.”

The letter came on the same day that President Trump threatened to cut funding to schools that don’t bring back all their children to class, and health officials advised Los Angeles County districts including Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest to prepare for the prospect of opening remotely this fall.

Read complete letter here

The CTA leaders said that many local districts don’t have the necessary resources or capacity to maintain even the most basic prevention measures of six feet physical distancing and limiting contacts.

“We should be clear eyed about this reality,” wrote CTA president Toby Boyd, along with its vice president David Goldberg and secretary-treasurer Leslie Littman. “How can we physically reopen schools with lower thresholds of safety than we currently have for restaurants or hair salons?”

They said that teachers want to be back in class with their students, “but we cannot ignore science facts and safety.”

When asked about the letter during his daily news briefing on Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he agrees that “we need to keep people safe and healthy” and that students and staff should not return to schools until their safety can be assured. He said he appreciated the letter and was starting to engage with superintendents up and down the state about how they can reopen safely, as well as how they can provide quality distance learning if they decide it’s unsafe to reopen. Newsom said the state prefers in-person instruction if possible to address the social and emotional needs of children, as well as their academic needs. He also stressed that the state is providing $5.3 billion in the budget to help schools address learning loss and safety issues.

If instruction continues remotely, he said its crucial that schools are “making sure we’re doing justice to distance learning in a way that’s equitable to all kids, not just some kids.”

Also on Wednesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics tried to blunt the message coming from the White House that all students should return in person to school — based in part on guidance the organization itself issued. Dr. Sally Goza, the organization’s president, spoke at the White House on Tuesday, arguing that missing school “can have serious consequences for child health and well-being.”

But in a letter to members yesterday Goza said that “its unfortunate that our guidance is being politicized by some and misinterpreted to mean a universal return to school no matter what. That is not what we recommend.”

Instead, she said, pediatricians are saying that children should only return to school if measures to keep students safe are in place. And that, she said, would require additional support from the federal government.

“When public health expertise is reframed to fit political interests,” she wrote, “it harms those who have the most at stake and the least opportunity to advocate for themselves: children.”

The CTA leaders said that California school districts have two options. One is to adopt what they called “a high risk in-person opening.” That, they said, would be risky even if it adopted a so-called “hybrid” approach, with students in school only part of the time, and the rest of the time at home, learning remotely.

The preferred model, they suggested, would be “to start the new school year under robust distance learning protocols until the virus is contained in local communities and proper safety measures can be put into place.”

“How can we reasonably expect hundreds of students and in some cases more than 1000 students to come together on one campus for an entire day without putting their health and the lives of every adult on that campus at risk?” they asked.

Trump tweeted on Wednesday that “Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS.” If they could do it, so could the U.S., Trump argued. And if they didn’t he threatened to “cut off funding,” without specifying what funding and under what authority he could do that.

But the CTA leadership said that Trump “ignores the fact that these other countries invested heavily in personal protective equipment, health and safety protocols for education and testing — the very resources that he is threatening to withdraw.”

“We are deeply concerned that politics are being played with the lives of children and the educators who serve them,” they said.

As the CTA has done in the past, it called on the Legislature to come up with additional revenues to ensure that schools can reopen safely by suspending corporate tax credits and imposing additional taxes on the state’s billionaires.

“We should not compromise on funding or school safety in the home of the greatest number of billionaires in the country, who have increased their net worth by 25% during the first three months of the pandemic,” they wrote.

Dr. Goza from the American Academy of Pediatrics also repeated what she had told Trump at the White House on Tuesday that schools would need additional resources to ensure the safety of students and staff.

“I am very concerned by recent statements from federal leaders threatening to withhold federal funds from schools that do not pursue in-person reopening in the fall,” she wrote. “This would put already financially strapped schools in impossible positions that would endanger the very people we are trying to protect.”

EdSource reporter Theresa Harrington contributed to this report.

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  1. Dick Rizzo 3 months ago3 months ago

    This is all so out of control. Both sides are playing politics with our children in school, Covid19 and the economy our pocketbooks all to either get Trump re-elected or to just Get Trump out of office and all Americans are suffering the consequences. I wish the 2 party system could be abolished so that we all just vote for principles, their character and capabilities of the person instead of all voting mindlessly for whoever … Read More

    This is all so out of control. Both sides are playing politics with our children in school, Covid19 and the economy our pocketbooks all to either get Trump re-elected or to just Get Trump out of office and all Americans are suffering the consequences.

    I wish the 2 party system could be abolished so that we all just vote for principles, their character and capabilities of the person instead of all voting mindlessly for whoever their party wants you to vote for. Burn both Red and Blue down.

  2. Sheryl Spinali 3 months ago3 months ago

    In a California school that is “closed” with students distance learning, why are some districts requiring teachers to be physically present in the school buildings to teach their students?

  3. David Anderson 3 months ago3 months ago

    I think Trump is a spoiled rich kid. Used to having his own way. And is an idiot for thinking he is in charge of everything in the USA. He is a civil servant that works for you and I. We pay his salary. Listen to him speak to the press. He can't even answer the questions he is asked. He has no respect for women. Hillary won by three million votes. Yet Trump is … Read More

    I think Trump is a spoiled rich kid. Used to having his own way. And is an idiot for thinking he is in charge of everything in the USA. He is a civil servant that works for you and I. We pay his salary. Listen to him speak to the press. He can’t even answer the questions he is asked. He has no respect for women. Hillary won by three million votes. Yet Trump is President.

    He was impeached. Later they dropped that. He threatening to take away school funding. If not reopened before the virus is under control. Is just stupid. The economy is bad. But by reopening everything back up before they have a handle on the virus. Is not a very smart idea. It will just get worse. If you’re not a good lier and a thief. You won’t make a good politician!

  4. Scott Hanover 3 months ago3 months ago

    We received an email from the principal of the private elementary school our son goes to. She advised Twin Lakes Christian School in Aptos, CA will be open this fall for on campus learning. This is clearly unsafe. Please stop them.

  5. Carolyn Peterson 3 months ago3 months ago

    I am disgusted and dismayed that New York can find a way to use a hybrid model to allow children to return to school in the Fall! But California can not! The California Teachers Union is in bed with Biden. Their policy regarding reopening schools in the Fall of 2020 is a vicious rebuttal against Trump! This is an appalling indictment on California’s teachers’ decision making process. How dare you politicize our children! Every theoretical model … Read More

    I am disgusted and dismayed that New York can find a way to use a hybrid model to allow children to return to school in the Fall! But California can not!

    The California Teachers Union is in bed with Biden. Their policy regarding reopening schools in the Fall of 2020 is a vicious rebuttal against Trump! This is an appalling indictment on California’s teachers’ decision making process.

    How dare you politicize our children! Every theoretical model in the field of education places children at the center. Students are the heart of education. Can you ignore the social sciences on these facts? Educators, read your professional journals on student-centered teaching and learning! Teachers are facilitators of the educational experience not the recipients of life-long learning!

    I am a social justice warrior when it come to children’s rights. How horrific will it be when students in sociology-economically deprived areas cannot ever catch up with professional teaching techniques? This may become the greatest inequity of modern times! Black children’s educational lives matter now more than ever!

    Let’s also take into account the mental health breakdown in children occurring right now in our children’s’ lives. They have become isolated in their own homes. They have been separated from their classmates. They have been deprived of interactive learning. They are suffering the effects of loneliness and depression. Child psychologists need to speak out and form a coalition! Hurry dear mental health professionals before it is too late!

    Parents, please have a show of strength. Gather together and make a plan to protest this inhuman decision. Recognize that you and your children are pawns on a political chessboard. Unite and speak out!

    SOS Save Our Students!!!

  6. Shawn 3 months ago3 months ago

    If CTA wants to close up shop, then they should collect no pay, just like the barbers and tattoo artists Newsom just put out if business again. After all, “we are all in this together!”

  7. J C 3 months ago3 months ago

    Safety first for all students, teachers, and staff! Distance learning until #14daysnonewcases

  8. Sonia Nuss 4 months ago4 months ago

    “School opening plans must consider teacher safety in addition to the well-being of students.” This was in the middle of the essay and is actually the key concern among many. With the virus continuing to spread, we need to know the best practices for safety. Let’s make sure we are protecting the vulnerable population.

  9. hardy frye 4 months ago4 months ago

    There appears to be a moral righteousness attached to those convinced that we can and should open schools safely within 4-6 weeks. This is based on the irreplaceable connections with teachers and the academic and social interactions they provide in those classrooms to support student learning and growth. It is very uplifting that the status of the classroom teacher is recognized for what it is – teachers are worth their weight in gold and invaluable … Read More

    There appears to be a moral righteousness attached to those convinced that we can and should open schools safely within 4-6 weeks. This is based on the irreplaceable connections with teachers and the academic and social interactions they provide in those classrooms to support student learning and growth. It is very uplifting that the status of the classroom teacher is recognized for what it is – teachers are worth their weight in gold and invaluable to our society. Hopefully moving on, that status will be operationalized in ways that support the profession!  No one can challenge the urgent need for students to be in school with their teachers and staff wanting intact schools!

    However, it is also a moral imperative to be honest about the conditions we are confronting and the need to keep students and adults safe.  In classrooms, 5 minutes can feel like a lifetime- there is so much going on all the time.  Unlike visiting a doctor and getting a haircut, which are static environments, classrooms and schools are highly interactive environments and yet, folks who should know better, talk about them as if they are not.  What seems to have risen to the surface are very vocal advocates of starting the year with in-person instruction with groups of individuals even though it has not been determined safe to visit a salon or meet 1:1 with a physician.  

    I am not even going to get into the lack of supplies, lack of national guarantees that any and all staff who contract the virus will not lose salary, the lack of personnel, poor air quality, on and on, because, we can all add to that list of concerns.  Also, consider the trauma caused by having to close a school because of staff or students getting sick; that includes personal and organizational trauma. I very rarely hear that even mentioned.

    The bottom line must be safety. Politics, rhetoric and wishful thinking have no place in any decisions about how and when we safely open our schools. Admittedly, our country, unlike many others,  has no collective experience or context for experiencing this type of duress and that may account for our inability to halt the spread and generate unsound conclusions. This virus presents a challenge to our resilience, integrity and commitment to each other. This is a test of how honest do we dare to be.

    Until safety thresholds are met, when doctors can see patients, for example, we need to focus on improving internet access, strengthening online learning strategies and family supports while we keep our students, our school staff and our communities safe. Yes, safe from strokes, from neurological, respiratory, other physical and emotional disabilities and even death.  

    This is written with deep acknowledgement to those who have lost loved ones, those who are sick and for the safety of our school communities.

  10. Mary Johnson 4 months ago4 months ago

    I agree with CTA and I don't agree a lot with them but reopening schools must be done safely that includes masks, shields, and hand gels for each student. Elementary students must have balls, pencils and papers for each student. Plus, the same safety equipment for teachers and all school staff. Parents have been yelling this but it wasn't until the CTA spoke out that the Governor started to listen. Sorry to state that our … Read More

    I agree with CTA and I don’t agree a lot with them but reopening schools must be done safely that includes masks, shields, and hand gels for each student. Elementary students must have balls, pencils and papers for each student. Plus, the same safety equipment for teachers and all school staff.

    Parents have been yelling this but it wasn’t until the CTA spoke out that the Governor started to listen. Sorry to state that our governor and school superintendent are brought men by CTA and PTA. Those two organization have their ears.

    Every survey shows that people have great concern about sending our children back to school. Somehow elected officials have the ideas that parents are tired of our children. Sorry we have adjusted and it is normal for many parents now. This is why many students have planned to continue to home school our children instead of sending them back to a dysfunctional school structure.

    Parents and caregivers are returning to be our children’s first teachers, because this spring taught us the real curriculum was missing from many school districts. Our children deserve better than what CTA is proposing and what our president is proposing. Open up schools for 5 days with money and resources to makes a safe and healthy environment. We need our governor and Tony Thurmond to make Students First over adult issues.

  11. Randy L. Mont-Reynaud 4 months ago4 months ago

    “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.”( Mark Twain) Is it time to think out-of-the-box and examine distance-learning more closely? Teachers and support staff are expected to teach “Safety First” – so operationalize that for me please, Congress people?

  12. Todd Maddison 4 months ago4 months ago

    I think we would all agree that safety - for both kids and staff - is paramount. So, what does the CTA define as "safe"? We need to have some definition, some idea of what the goal is before we can say "we need more money to do that," right? Everything in life has risk: What do we need to get the risk level down to in the schools before the CTA would consider it safe for teachers, … Read More

    I think we would all agree that safety – for both kids and staff – is paramount.

    So, what does the CTA define as “safe”?

    We need to have some definition, some idea of what the goal is before we can say “we need more money to do that,” right?

    Everything in life has risk: What do we need to get the risk level down to in the schools before the CTA would consider it safe for teachers, and what measures need to be in place to do that?

    With that, we can figure out at least an approximate cost.

    Without that, it seems like it’s just posturing.

  13. Giselle S Galper 4 months ago4 months ago

    Thanks so much for publishing this. “Robust distance learning protocols” cannot be a euphemism for self-teaching. In addition, the analysis must be done classroom by classroom. In my son’s high school, the art room has high ceilings and big doors. It could easily be safe.

    Replies

    • MaryBeth 3 months ago3 months ago

      Getting everyone back to school would have to mean that all the rooms are safe, not just a few, or the ones that aren’t can be set aside and they can make do with others. No matter how many times people complain about the online option, it doesn’t make in-person school safe. There’s not going to be a good option. Choose the safest of the bad options.

  14. denise bono 4 months ago4 months ago

    Students need to go back to school and we can make it work!

    Replies

    • Elisabeth 4 months ago4 months ago

      Would love to hear your plan. Leave the meaningless, unsupported statements to our current “president.”