Credit: Louis Freedberg/EdSource
Berkeley parents at a rally on Feb. 6 to pressure the district to open schools for in-person instruction.

E. Toby Boyd was just elected to a second two-year term to head up the California Teachers Association, representing over 300,000 teachers in California. He was formerly a kindergarten teacher for 23 years in Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento. In an interview with John Fensterwald and Louis Freedberg on EdSource’s podcast “This Week in California Education,” he talked about under what conditions the organization believes teachers should return to school for in-person instruction, including whether they should be vaccinated before doing so. Because of CTA’s key role in the school re-opening debate, we are reprinting Boyd’s lightly edited remarks below.

EdSource: Gov. Newsom has made explicit his policy on vaccinations and said that it’s not necessary to vaccinate all teachers before reopening schools for at least elementary schools? What’s your position on vaccines?

Boyd: The educators who are in front of students right now should be vaccinated, and there should be testing taking place to make sure that the virus itself is not entering the school site. If districts are going to plan on opening, they need to make sure that the educators who are going to be in front of the classes when they reopen have the vaccine. All this is done on the presumption that the educator involved will want to have the vaccine, because it’s their personal choice.

CTA President E. Toby Boyd

EdSource: But in terms of timing, if it’s a two-shot vaccination plus an additional week or two before it takes effect, we’re really talking about six weeks from the time that you get your first shot to the time that you’re ready to go back to school. So we’re talking about maybe mid-April at the earliest.

Boyd: We feel that the vaccine is available. We feel that it is part of a multilayered process in order to mitigate the virus. And so that is important to us.

EdSource: The CTA did put out a statement about a need for a hundred days to put safety measures in place, but it wasn’t totally clear what you had in mind. Are you saying teachers shouldn’t go back for a hundred days? Do you have a hundred-day timeline?

Boyd: The hundred days is to allow us to get the pandemic under control better than what it is right now, especially in those areas where it is higher than others. So it’s a process in which we say, “give us a hundred days so that we can make sure we have all the necessary protocols in place — the vaccine, the ventilation, the mask wearing. Let’s get all that in place, and make sure that it’s safe for students and for our employees before we get back into school.” So it’s just making sure that we have a plan in place in order to do so.

EdSource: Are you saying that teachers and other school staff shouldn’t go back for a hundred days? That would obviously would take us pretty much to the end of the school year. What if things were to improve before a hundred days or if it takes longer than a hundred days for things to improve?

Boyd: If things improve before a hundred days and if schools have all the necessary mitigating layers in place, then we can get back faster. But it’s going to take some time in order to get everything in place. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. We know that it’s not going to happen within a week. We know the resources aren’t going to be there because you’re going to have to purchase the items. You’re going to have to make sure that the ventilation is in place. You’re going to make sure that the contact tracing and the testing is in place. So all those things have to be planned out and it’s not going to happen within ten days. And so we gave a hundred days. If it’s shorter, then yes, we’ll get back into session. But if it takes longer, it just gives people time, so it’s not rushed and it can be truly mapped out in a very logical, strategic way,

EdSource: But a hundred days would effectively take you to the end of the school year. We’d be in May by then.

Boyd: We should have been planning for this back in June. And then that hundred days would not be affecting where we are at this time.

EdSource: The biggest criticism we hear from superintendents — in fact, everyone uses the same analogy — is that the CTA and the unions are always moving the goalposts back. They’ll point to the hundred days as, here it is, another hundred days. Last week, all the unions came with a proposal which stipulates when schools should go back. It’s a very detailed plan, one part of which says that teachers should not be ordered to go back until it’s yellow, which I hadn’t heard before. Could you respond to that general criticism that you really don’t want to go back, and you’re constantly changing what the unions are requesting or requiring?

Boyd: Our position has always been the same: safety. When we first started out, because we didn’t know much about the virus, we were going with the experts, and we were going down the path with them. So when we learned more about the virus, when we learned how to mitigate this virus, we’ve always stated that it’s about safety. At first, it was mask wearing because that’s what we thought was the best. And then the experts said no, it has to be mask wearing and social distancing. And so every time the experts stated that this is what’s needed in order to ensure safety, that’s what we were going for. We haven’t changed our goalposts. So it’s not us making the decisions, because we’re not the experts. We’re dependent upon those people who know what’s going on with the virus and how to mitigate it.

EdSource: Why yellow? Why wait until the minimum risk to order schools to go back?

Boyd: I’m hoping that it wouldn’t come down to just yellow when we are told to go back, that in between the red and the orange there would be the necessary items in place, that there will be memoranda of understandings or agreements between the district, the (CTA) association and the community, so they would be able to open. So the red and the orange would be where the work would be occurring. I don’t see anyone waiting until that time, until yellow, to say “you have to go back.”

EdSource: The position paper that you and the other unions put out doesn’t necessarily represent the position that all your local affiliates would adopt. Is that correct?

Boyd: It’s just our recommendations for our members. And it’s just a guidepost in order for them to say, “OK, these are the things that need to be in place. Let’s negotiate. Let’s see where we are, understanding that our end game is to make sure it’s safe for our students and everyone else involved.

EdSource: It seems like we are at a pivotal moment, not only in terms of the evolution of the pandemic, but also in terms of the school year. A lot of work will have to be done all sides.

Boyd: But it will happen as long as we do that work together, because one side can not come up with answers and get things rolling by themselves. It has to be a collaborative effort with all the stakeholders involved.

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  1. SD Parent 8 months ago8 months ago

    It will take six weeks from the first injection until "full immunity," and expectations for vaccination for Phase 1B in the urban areas where school sites are closed won't start until probably mid-March, the odds for in-person instruction in these school districts before the end of the 2020-21 school year are near zero. Nothing will create more hostility toward teachers and school districts than to see these employees get prioritized for vaccination and then … Read More

    It will take six weeks from the first injection until “full immunity,” and expectations for vaccination for Phase 1B in the urban areas where school sites are closed won’t start until probably mid-March, the odds for in-person instruction in these school districts before the end of the 2020-21 school year are near zero. Nothing will create more hostility toward teachers and school districts than to see these employees get prioritized for vaccination and then not do in-person instruction until the 2021-22 school year.

    So, the only teachers/district employees who should be prioritized are those doing in-person instruction now or those who have signed contracts that would have them doing in-person instruction or interaction with students by April 15. All other educators/school district employees can wait in line for vaccines with everyone else and/or be immunized 6 weeks before their school districts reopen to in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year, whichever comes first.

  2. Andrew 8 months ago8 months ago

    What appears to be entirely lost in this mix is that there are entire districts and counties in California, especially in Northeastern CA, where teachers have been ordered to appear for in person teaching five days a week since January 4. Without any systematic rapid testing of students or staff. When a student is sick and needs to be cleaned up, the teachers do it. Nobody else is there to do it. Students … Read More

    What appears to be entirely lost in this mix is that there are entire districts and counties in California, especially in Northeastern CA, where teachers have been ordered to appear for in person teaching five days a week since January 4. Without any systematic rapid testing of students or staff.

    When a student is sick and needs to be cleaned up, the teachers do it. Nobody else is there to do it. Students cycle in and out in-person as Covid hits their families. Some of the teachers are in their 60’s and highly vulnerable to Covid due to existing medical issues. But these teachers have not been vaccinated and cannot get appointments because they are under 65.

    While the state debates whether teachers should be vaccinated before returning to in person instruction, these teachers risk illness and even death every school day. Meanwhile, as the LA Times recently reported, CA is already vaccinating some cannabis workers of all ages, as supposed health workers, while withholding vaccine from teachers working in person.

  3. Brenda lebsack 8 months ago8 months ago

    As a public school teacher who exited the union because I do not believe they put kids first, I think we need to change our terminology to correctly reflect present day education. We need to replace “public education” with “government schools.” Just as Calif is run by a supermajority that has become more and more extreme in their ideologies and practice, our state education is simply a mirror of the same.

    Replies

    • Larry Sand 8 months ago8 months ago

      As a retired teacher from LAUSD, I agree with Brenda. CTA is just an arm of the Democratic Party. Almost all their political spending goes to Democratic campaigns and causes. They have been called the “the co-equal fourth branch of government.”

      • Seth 8 months ago8 months ago

        I feel like making this discussion about political parties is a mistake, it may very well be political to some extent. But consider the following: 1. Biden said he wants schools to reopen by April 30th, which is the direction the Democratic party is following. 2. School reopening correlates with education equity and government's role is promoting society which is usually a "left-wing" agenda everywhere in the world (outside California), the conservative solution to reopening would be the … Read More

        I feel like making this discussion about political parties is a mistake, it may very well be political to some extent.
        But consider the following:
        1. Biden said he wants schools to reopen by April 30th, which is the direction the Democratic party is following.
        2. School reopening correlates with education equity and government’s role is promoting society which is usually a “left-wing” agenda everywhere in the world (outside California), the conservative solution to reopening would be the voucher system.
        3. Outside California, many vastly Democratic states have reopened schools even to the extent of forcing local teacher unions. This is also why we have reliable data that school reopening is safe.
        For example:
        Conneticut – https://data.ct.gov/stories/s/mpdc-p8wg
        Aurora Public Schools (Denver) – https://aurorak12.org/back2school/#tracking
        Denver Public Schools – https://www.dpsk12.org/coronavirus/covid-19-dashboard/#dps
        New Hampshire – https://www.nh.gov/covid19/dashboard/schools.htm
        Rhode Island – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1c2QrNMz8pIbYEKzMJL7Uh2dtThOJa2j1sSMwiDo5Gz4/edit#gid=594871904
        and so on…
        4. The legislation for school reopening is being led by Democratic legislators such as Phil Ting (AB-10).

        The CTA is not the Democratic party, I would say they are exploiting their proximity to power in an effort to coerce the Democratic party in California to do their bidding. This is why legislators and the governor are required to curb the overextending of their reach.

  4. Seth 8 months ago8 months ago

    This is truly a litmus test for government and leadership The CTA has no intention of reopening schools until they are forced to do so by the State. The goalpost keeps being pushed back and the requirements are utterly unreasonable: * yellow tier even with the vaccine might be impossible to achieve, even if vaccines reduce the danger from covid-19 it doesn't eliminate the virus so community spread is still possible. * Saying vaccination is a prerequisite but not … Read More

    This is truly a litmus test for government and leadership
    The CTA has no intention of reopening schools until they are forced to do so by the State.
    The goalpost keeps being pushed back and the requirements are utterly unreasonable:
    * yellow tier even with the vaccine might be impossible to achieve, even if vaccines reduce the danger from covid-19 it doesn’t eliminate the virus so community spread is still possible.
    * Saying vaccination is a prerequisite but not a requirement for teachers just means any teacher should have the right to refuse to go to back to work, indefinitely, which also doesn’t make sense. If the CTA demands teachers be first in line for vaccines, then vaccination should stipulate returning to in-person instruction.
    * The added demand for school-wide testing of entire districts including students is also impossible, current estimates put the cost at $40 per student per week. Quick math means that for a 10,000 student district, testing alone would cost around $10 million in additional expense per school year or about $1,000 per student. Most school districts in California cannot afford that.
    * The 100 days number is completely arbitrary, since E. Toby Boyd very cynically quotes the reason as being “get the pandemic under control” but offers no reasoning as to why 100 days and what “under control” means, leaving the option to again move the goalpost back should this “control” ever occur.

    The biggest takeaway for anyone reading this interview should be that the CTA will do everything in its power to prevent schools from reopening; this is not about teacher safety or child well-being. This is purely a political power move meant to flex the muscles of one of the biggest, strongest and most ruthless worker unions in California.

    I urge any person that feels (like me) that this is unreasonable, to reach out to their CA assembly member and request the legislator intervene in order to restore some measure of control to our local schools and school districts.

    Replies

    • Adam Hampton 8 months ago8 months ago

      What would CTA's motive be for keeping schools closed? You cite a "power play" to "flex muscles". However, all the teachers I speak with call this their worst year ever, are begging to get back to in-person instruction and support CTA's focus on teacher and student safety. CTA and teachers didn't create COVID-19. Neither stuck their heads in the sand like our former president. Is it CTA's fault that our … Read More

      What would CTA’s motive be for keeping schools closed? You cite a “power play” to “flex muscles”. However, all the teachers I speak with call this their worst year ever, are begging to get back to in-person instruction and support CTA’s focus on teacher and student safety.

      CTA and teachers didn’t create COVID-19. Neither stuck their heads in the sand like our former president. Is it CTA’s fault that our federal response from March 2020-January 20, 2021, made us the world leader in COVID deaths, hospitalizations, infections? C’mon now…

      Is this anger coming because CTA is one of the most organized, democratic, and influential institutions we have and they won’t be pushed into sacrificing safety to make up for poor decisions that were repetitively made out of their control?

      Holes can be poked in any boat, but I’m happy to be in one (CTA) that values teachers and won’t sacrifice them on the COVID altar.

      “Ruthless”? Let’s get to the Red Tier as a society … does anyone think we can do that? Even that is a “substantial” risk of spread. If society can’t get its game together and stop the spread, do we expect teachers to pick those pieces up as well?

      • Seth 8 months ago8 months ago

        I really don't want to try and guess what the motivations of the CTA are, this is why it seems to me like a political power play. Why otherwise would they make demands which can not possibly be achieved. This has nothing to do with current or previous administration... Why 100 days? This is not in accordance with any public health agency or expert. Why yellow tier? The yellow tier basically means that COVID-19 no longer exists, that … Read More

        I really don’t want to try and guess what the motivations of the CTA are, this is why it seems to me like a political power play. Why otherwise would they make demands which can not possibly be achieved.

        This has nothing to do with current or previous administration…
        Why 100 days? This is not in accordance with any public health agency or expert.
        Why yellow tier? The yellow tier basically means that COVID-19 no longer exists, that might not even be a viable option. Vaccines are not a cure, they will not eradicate the virus, what vaccines do is trigger an immune response which makes sickness mild (similar to flu in a way). Saying that teachers need to wait for yellow tier is the same as saying that teachers need to wait for the eradication of the flu.

        But none of this is new, we have been down this road before in October when cases were down and the CTA moved back the goalpost to prevent reopening in most districts, why would this time be any different.

        Ruthless refers to the CTA dominance over local chapters, a school district which has the capacity and ability to reopen safely would still not be able to do so since the CTA can not allow anyone to break rank. All the districts I am aware of that reopened operate with their own teachers union which are far more reasonable.

        When you say the union won’t be “pushed for sacrificing safety,” that is precisely the problem. Their definition of “safety” cannot be matched. No country in Europe or state in the US has reached the required level of “safety” demanded by the CTA, yet most of them have reopened schools.

        I for one do not believe the CTA knows better than all public health experts in the world, and I doubt the CTA thinks that either, which is why this is cynical and political.