Credit: Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education
A high school student completes his schoolwork online from his home.

Everyone that I know wants to get California’s 6 million-plus public school children back in school as quickly and as safely as possible.

If we’re really going to get there though, state leaders, starting with Governor Newsom, are going to have to think out of the box as this once-in-a-century pandemic continues unabated.

The governor deserves praise for his recent budget and school reopening proposals, but schools aren’t going to reopen anytime soon across the state if the details and agreements on in-person instruction have to be reached through local collective bargaining agreements and memoranda of understanding in more than a 1,000 school districts.

I offer this point of view knowing that, in a career that has spanned more than fifty years, I have been a consistent advocate and champion for local control of schools.

Governor Brown’s historic embrace of a return to local control through the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP) extended my career measurably through service on his State Board of Education and as the launch executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE), a new state agency designed to get the right kind of help to districts, charters and county offices of education.

I also know that in my role as superintendent of two of the largest districts in the state (Long Beach and San Diego) for more than 12 years, whatever good things we were able to accomplish were done in close collaboration with our CTA and CSEA labor partners.

I count CTA stalwarts Marilyn Bittle of Long Beach, and Terry Pesta and Dick Gale of San Diego, in my personal pantheon of heroes for all that they did to partner in the interests of school children on a daily basis during my time as a superintendent in two very challenging assignments.

And, for the past two years, I’ve been honored to serve as a community member of CTA’s Institute for Teaching board, their foundation arm, which has given me an up close and personal view of the remarkable work that they’re doing statewide to support innovation at the classroom level, where the real work of rescuing historically underserved students is done on a daily basis in our state from Siskiyou and Modoc counties in the North all the way to the Mexican border on the South.

Having said all that, I believe that Governor Newsom should use his emergency authority during this pandemic to temporarily suspend local collective bargaining, and that he should sit down with the leaders of CTA, CFT and CSEA to negotiate a safe statewide reopening of all public schools for in-person instruction.

Yes, this is an out of the box and unconventional proposal, but it may be what’s needed if we’re really serious about reopening schools in a timely way this school year. Without getting into the weeds of a pact that is to be negotiated by the parties, the agreement should include guarantees with regard to cases, testing and contact tracing, vaccinations for all school employees, PPE, and thorough cleaning and sanitation of all school facilities on a regular basis.

So often as leaders, we give in to what I call the “you can’t” thinking when that kind of analysis is usually wrong. I remember back in the 90s working with the Long Beach school board on improvements that were designed to improve the school system in a community that was threatened by economic collapse and permanent gang warfare. We were often met with “you can’t” do that in the public schools.

Whether it was required school uniforms, single gender instruction or ending social promotion, the constant refrain was that we could not do any of those things in the public schools. It turns out that we could, and we did and, as they say, “the rest is history” with Long Beach ultimately winning the Broad Prize as the best urban school system in America.

I’m not downplaying in any way the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic presents leaders with an emergency for which there is no existing playbook with regard to solving the biggest challenges, but I do know that we won’t get there without leaders taking risks and not getting stuck in conventional thinking.

I think the governor has excellent resources in the Legislature’s education committee chairs, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell of Long Beach and State Senator Connie Leyva of Chino. O’Donnell, a former classroom teacher and CTA ally, has advocated for a state level checklist with clear health metrics for reopening public schools for in-person instruction, while Leyva, a former labor leader in her own right, has pointed out that our school children learn best in in-person settings.

A statewide collective bargaining agreement is also important because it would free up superintendents and their staffs to work on the critical and emerging local workforce issues that haven’t received a lot of media attention so far.

Several superintendents have told me that their substitute teacher lists are depleted, classified health aides — so critical for supporting high need special education students — are not available, and record numbers of employees are taking leaves of absence. Addressing all of these critical workforce elements is essential for a safe reopening for in-person instruction in all of our schools. The state agreement that I’m proposing should include additional money and incentives for this.

I’m not arguing for a permanent abandonment of local collective bargaining agreements at the K-12 level, but all education policymakers are aware that our California State University system, the largest public higher education system in the country, has had statewide collective bargaining for decades and remains a healthy robust system that serves students well.

If we’re serious about a timely return to in-person instruction for our younger students this school year, state leaders need to roll up their sleeves and think out of the box.

•••

Carl Cohn was formerly executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a member of the California State Board of Education and superintendent of the San Diego Unified and Long Beach Unified school districts.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. EdSource seeks to publish commentaries that reflect diverse perspectives across California’s education landscape. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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  1. Shelly 5 days ago5 days ago

    Thank you for your forward thinking, and for recognizing the urgency and leadership required to provide an in-person learning option for California students. I, like so many other essential workers, have been on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic. While I understand personally the fears of educators hesitant to return I can also speak firsthand to the efficacy of universal masking, and the harms being done to children by virtual learning. Districts … Read More

    Thank you for your forward thinking, and for recognizing the urgency and leadership required to provide an in-person learning option for California students. I, like so many other essential workers, have been on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic. While I understand personally the fears of educators hesitant to return I can also speak firsthand to the efficacy of universal masking, and the harms being done to children by virtual learning.

    Districts across this country have shown that in person education can be provided safely throughout this year. I am ashamed that, in deferring this process to every district, California has abandoned so many of its children and families. Even for essential workers who had to work outside the home, our state has offered no educational or childcare support. And districts continue to negotiate and draw up plans without any input from health care experts.

    This has gone on far too long. Listen to the experts who have faced and battled this pandemic in person all year and open schools for the children who want and need in-person education.

  2. Sharon Huggins 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    You can pry my local collective bargaining rights out of my cold, dead hands. You will not "suspend" my rights to protect myself and my local unit members. The old saying is "the knowledge is in the field" and many understand that "local knows best." I am utterly unconvinced that a state-level power with the entities listed in this opinion article could do more, better, and faster on policy decisions that effect teachers, students, and … Read More

    You can pry my local collective bargaining rights out of my cold, dead hands. You will not “suspend” my rights to protect myself and my local unit members. The old saying is “the knowledge is in the field” and many understand that “local knows best.”

    I am utterly unconvinced that a state-level power with the entities listed in this opinion article could do more, better, and faster on policy decisions that effect teachers, students, and local communities. Order supplies? Sure. Make laws. Uh, okay. Otherwise, leave local decisions to locals and leave my rights alone.

  3. Cornelia Taylor 1 month ago1 month ago

    Trying to blame this problem on the unions is disgusting.

  4. Finn 1 month ago1 month ago

    What the governor and others are missing is the issue of social distancing! Public school classrooms have too many students to social distance. My class numbers 32 students and square footage does not even allow 3 ft. Distance. Maybe 16-18 students would fit for 3 ft. Distance space. That is why private schools could open-less kids per classroom! Also, I am not willing to put my life together in danger when there will be no … Read More

    What the governor and others are missing is the issue of social distancing! Public school classrooms have too many students to social distance. My class numbers 32 students and square footage does not even allow 3 ft. Distance. Maybe 16-18 students would fit for 3 ft.

    Distance space. That is why private schools could open-less kids per classroom! Also, I am not willing to put my life together in danger when there will be no real consequences to students violating mask rules. There are no consequences for students who punch or get in fights now and I am supposed to sacrifice my safety by trusting administration to uphold safety standards. Doubtful. Also, schools do not/will not be able to contact tracing. The county health department should have to do that. The county should have to tell the schools when a kid or family has covid or needs to quarantine. Kids will come to school sick and parents do not pick up their phone-usually just cell phone and no other contact numbers. No thank you. This teacher is out until I am vaccinated!

  5. Demetrio 1 month ago1 month ago

    Infections are increasing, there’s a new strain, and precisely in San Diego, allergic reactions to the vaccine are high (underreported by the MSM).

  6. Lorena 1 month ago1 month ago

    I find it mind boggling that you believe it is safe to return to school this year at all. First off, no vaccine yet for teachers or kids. But let's talk about what is at stake if we go back to class. We have to start over. These kids will not come in, sit quietly while wearing their masks appropriately. They will be wild to see their friends. They will hide on campus to be … Read More

    I find it mind boggling that you believe it is safe to return to school this year at all. First off, no vaccine yet for teachers or kids. But let’s talk about what is at stake if we go back to class. We have to start over. These kids will not come in, sit quietly while wearing their masks appropriately. They will be wild to see their friends. They will hide on campus to be together. We do not have the classrooms to hold my 35+ kids in 6 foot spacing.

    Methinks a lot of this is because state testing wants their cash. The bribery aspect of this and other articles I have seen by bureaucrats show you have no idea what is going on this year.
    Most of my students are not sleeping. They are stressed, worried, anxious and over it. But with relationship building about 85-90% of students are doing work and learning. What happens if we uproot them and bring them back to class?

    Lastly, this is one year. Our students are resilient, they will be fine. This outrageous claim that this year will set them back too far to come back from is alarmist. And to suggest we should be testing them this year is asinine.

    You keep pushing this onto teachers after everything we have done this year to do distance learning in the first place …with no bonuses mind you. And you are going to hear the word strike. Loudly!

  7. Michael Sagehorn 1 month ago1 month ago

    Candidly, Carl, are you nuts? Do you have any understanding of the amount of square feet in an average California public school classroom? My HMO says even though I’m over 60 with health conditions the nearest time I will have a vaccine is April.

    Collective bargaining agreements are not just about pay and benefits. They include safe working conditions too. This idea isn’t science and isn’t safe.

  8. Lynn Stevens 1 month ago1 month ago

    You lost me on your first sentence. At least 1/3 of our parents have stated they will not send their children to school on campus. Approximately another 1/3 will do what they are asked. Leaving a 1/3 who might prefer on campus schooling. Hence the majority sides with Distance Learning. Teachers also care about safety - there is no current plan that offers that. Most districts around here — NorCal — have per their surveys, … Read More

    You lost me on your first sentence. At least 1/3 of our parents have stated they will not send their children to school on campus. Approximately another 1/3 will do what they are asked. Leaving a 1/3 who might prefer on campus schooling. Hence the majority sides with Distance Learning.

    Teachers also care about safety – there is no current plan that offers that. Most districts around here — NorCal — have per their surveys, the same information. The fact that you have only served against a union probably further clouds your perspective.

    Replies

    • Jim 1 month ago1 month ago

      The eefinition of "majority" 'a number or percentage equaling more than half of a total' "At least 1/3 of our parents have stated they will not send their children to school on campus. Approximately another 1/3 will do what they are asked. Leaving a 1/3 who might prefer on campus schooling. Hence the majority sides with Distance Learning. " Read More

      The eefinition of “majority” ‘a number or percentage equaling more than half of a total’

      “At least 1/3 of our parents have stated they will not send their children to school on campus. Approximately another 1/3 will do what they are asked. Leaving a 1/3 who might prefer on campus schooling. Hence the majority sides with Distance Learning. “

  9. Susan Weinstein 1 month ago1 month ago

    Really? Get me my vaccines. Not willing to die or to be responsible for killing my family because you all want your kids, who are not required to wear a mask, and who do not social distance at all (based on the amount of random people in and out of their houses and apartments), and based on the large amount who have Covid now and have had it since March to be in school in … Read More

    Really? Get me my vaccines. Not willing to die or to be responsible for killing my family because you all want your kids, who are not required to wear a mask, and who do not social distance at all (based on the amount of random people in and out of their houses and apartments), and based on the large amount who have Covid now and have had it since March to be in school in person.

    Will definitely quit as I am with a few years of retirement anyway. On the other hand, I am 100% wanting to be back in my classroom once I get both doses and have the 1 week waiting period after the second dose!

  10. Jim 1 month ago1 month ago

    The thought that schools should center on the needs of students rather than employees is heretical in California, at least in traditional public school. Gavin Newsom has his kids back in school but they are in private school. While he would prefer the optics of sending them to public school, he is not willing to make that sacrifice.

  11. Erinn VanderMeer 2 months ago2 months ago

    This is unacceptable. Floating union busting when we need to be working together more than ever is unconscionable. Unions and admin all over California continue to work together to navigate the pandemic, while continuing education and keeping families safe. If the author really valued his supposedly strong past working relationships with CFT/CTA/CSEA etc, he would never propose this. Unions represent teachers/support staff/classified through direct representation (and fair voting systems). Support your local unions and … Read More

    This is unacceptable. Floating union busting when we need to be working together more than ever is unconscionable. Unions and admin all over California continue to work together to navigate the pandemic, while continuing education and keeping families safe. If the author really valued his supposedly strong past working relationships with CFT/CTA/CSEA etc, he would never propose this.

    Unions represent teachers/support staff/classified through direct representation (and fair voting systems). Support your local unions and the staffs they represent by keeping them at the table in all decision making. They are after all the experts of their schools. They know what will/won’t work.

  12. Marcy Guthrie 2 months ago2 months ago

    Thank you, EdSource and Carl Cohn. As the proud superintendent of Mother Lode Union School District, I am grateful for your out-of-the-box idea and clearly sharing the arduous journey it is and has been for public educational leaders and systems. We have been hard at work since March 13, 2020, with very few breaks, including our labor leaders with constant negotiations around MOUs, etc. I too, value our labor partners as Mother Lode USD … Read More

    Thank you, EdSource and Carl Cohn. As the proud superintendent of Mother Lode Union School District, I am grateful for your out-of-the-box idea and clearly sharing the arduous journey it is and has been for public educational leaders and systems. We have been hard at work since March 13, 2020, with very few breaks, including our labor leaders with constant negotiations around MOUs, etc. I too, value our labor partners as Mother Lode USD are committed to the CA Labor Management Initiative, very important collaborative work! Thank you!!!

  13. S 2 months ago2 months ago

    I am absolutely shocked that this was published. How offensive and honestly disrespectful to California’s educators.

  14. Dave 2 months ago2 months ago

    I respectfully disagree. My district has pushed forward faster than is safe, all the while side stepping their own procedures for public safety. True our union leadership has been complicit in this, still they remain the only friction to slow this run away train. Readers should understand that all they find distasteful in public education is the result of top down policies, not fault of teachers who actually do the work.

  15. Karen 2 months ago2 months ago

    f there ever is a time to rely on collective bargaining it’s for a safe working environment and any time the safety of the working environment is affected, we have the right to bargain so that of course that includes during a pandemic emergency. To waive that right is not supported by labor law. What nonsense.

  16. Linda 2 months ago2 months ago

    And what's your plan when students in school test positive for Covid? I work in a Sacramento area elementary school with hybrid and distant learning options, and every day we see more and more students testing positive, as well as teachers, custodians, and administrators. I do not think now is the time to bring students back. All it would do, in spite of all the precautions, training, safety measures, and best intentions, is make … Read More

    And what’s your plan when students in school test positive for Covid? I work in a Sacramento area elementary school with hybrid and distant learning options, and every day we see more and more students testing positive, as well as teachers, custodians, and administrators.

    I do not think now is the time to bring students back. All it would do, in spite of all the precautions, training, safety measures, and best intentions, is make the case numbers go up and put more strain on doctors and hospitals.

    What is clear is that what we’re doing now is not working!! Give the vaccine to staff and students first, then open the schools safely. Our numbers verify that more parents who originally went with hybrid instruction for their kids are now asking to switch back to distant learning out of safety concerns for their kids.

    Yes, under normal circumstances kids belong in school, both for an education and for socialization. But school needs to be a safe place for all, and in the middle of a pandemic, with new, more contagious variants appearing, and with California hospitals already above capacity, I do not believe sending kids back to school is a wise solution, especially when you can’t reasonably guarantee safety.

  17. Judy A Johnston 2 months ago2 months ago

    The issue with leaders taking risks in this instance is that these leaders won't be in the classrooms where the actual risk is taking place. If we as a country don't come to our senses and actually support small businesses and really support children and families economically and by just really staying home, this pandemic is going to dog us endlessly (and gosh, no offense to dogs there!). We have got to get … Read More

    The issue with leaders taking risks in this instance is that these leaders won’t be in the classrooms where the actual risk is taking place. If we as a country don’t come to our senses and actually support small businesses and really support children and families economically and by just really staying home, this pandemic is going to dog us endlessly (and gosh, no offense to dogs there!). We have got to get a grip and stop putting each other at risk.

  18. Nicole 2 months ago2 months ago

    Vaccinations for employees and kids should be choice like the flu vaccine, otherwise I would sue school, unions and board members who pushed it through if side effects are bad or worse since big pharma has no liability on Covid vaccine since it’s in emergency use.

  19. Jennifer 2 months ago2 months ago

    So are you planning on substituting for me once I catch Covid-19 while back in the classroom with no right to negotiate safety?

  20. Jon Bruschke 2 months ago2 months ago

    …or fire half the administrators and eliminate assessments and testing, put the teachers in charge, and fix many problems at once

  21. MarcIa Fritz 2 months ago2 months ago

    Each Covid test costs $200, and routine, regular testing of students regardless whether it is likely they were exposed, and with no symptoms, is cost prohibited. Please follow what other countries are doing successfully.

  22. Arlene 2 months ago2 months ago

    Newsom is responsible for moving the goal posts to resume education in our state. He alone put forth extreme measures. Teachers unions did little to push for children to have no masks and unfettered education in the classroom. It’s unfortunate and disturbing that the life of a child was not considered in public education but more in private schools. Newsom gets no credit.

  23. Donald L Macleay 2 months ago2 months ago

    Seems that almost everyone you know did not include this long list of people chiming in here. It does not include a lot of people from the Bay Area either.

  24. Walter P Bemis 2 months ago2 months ago

    Thank you Mr. Cohn for saying what so many of us are thinking! For the overall good of our children and families, who are suffering so much during this time, I hope someone is listening.
    CSEA union member at SVUSD
    W. Paul Bemis

  25. James 2 months ago2 months ago

    Teachers unions should be abolished. Full stop.

  26. Scottws 2 months ago2 months ago

    In the Panhandle of Florida we have been in school since mid August. I would say 70 % brick and mortar from opening. After the holiday break the students really wanted back. We are back to 95%. Really no effect with the students. We did have teachers out but it spread out evenly over this time. The students really to be back mentally and physically. We are a beach town. But this year we … Read More

    In the Panhandle of Florida we have been in school since mid August. I would say 70 % brick and mortar from opening.

    After the holiday break the students really wanted back. We are back to 95%. Really no effect with the students.

    We did have teachers out but it spread out evenly over this time.

    The students really to be back mentally and physically. We are a beach town.
    But this year we have just move in from all over the country. Students moved in from even Hawaii, CA, Oregon, Washington to name a few few.

    So far things seem are going well.

    Normalcy as much as we can make it.

  27. Mercedes Robbins 2 months ago2 months ago

    I guess I will need to find a new career after 10 dedicated years, because I am not trusting this brand new vaccination. Yall go ahead and line up. I’ll start looking elsewhere.

  28. Kate Penso 2 months ago2 months ago

    Once again unions are being blamed when it is a virus and the inability for Americans to quarantine that has us in this situation. Unions are bargaining for safety measures. Our MOUs include language that keep staff and kids safe. Teachers understand what is needed in classrooms. This is why we need a voice in the plan to return, if we return. I can't believe we are even discussing going back in person when 4,000 … Read More

    Once again unions are being blamed when it is a virus and the inability for Americans to quarantine that has us in this situation. Unions are bargaining for safety measures. Our MOUs include language that keep staff and kids safe. Teachers understand what is needed in classrooms. This is why we need a voice in the plan to return, if we return.

    I can’t believe we are even discussing going back in person when 4,000 humans a day are dying in this country and counties in this state are under 5% capacity in emergency rooms. We’re talking about human lives. Unions are fighting for the lives of our communities.

  29. Nicole White 2 months ago2 months ago

    Thank you for the post. As an educator teaching middle school, vaccination has to go beyond just teachers. If students are not vaccinated, they will spread this aggressive virus to each other. Realistically, school cannot be guaranteed to be safe in person. Politically, yes it can be said to be safe. Everyone needs to look beyond their own wants and look at the facts. Lives matter over education. Those who do not sit in the … Read More

    Thank you for the post. As an educator teaching middle school, vaccination has to go beyond just teachers. If students are not vaccinated, they will spread this aggressive virus to each other. Realistically, school cannot be guaranteed to be safe in person. Politically, yes it can be said to be safe. Everyone needs to look beyond their own wants and look at the facts. Lives matter over education. Those who do not sit in the classroom with students who are catching Covid-19 really should stop speaking for all and focus on when it is safe to return to in person learning, how we will close the gaps. Until then let’s be safe.

  30. Bret 2 months ago2 months ago

    This comments section is absolutely brutal. Nobody agrees with the author, except for some canned, nonspecific posts of support. I’m glad everyone can see through this shabby argument.

  31. J 2 months ago2 months ago

    One. In California. We are blessed with great weather. Why are we not teaching outside? The damage being done to the kids will last a lifetime. The teachers are doing a horrible job with zoom teaching. Kids can't sit on front of a computer for 5-6 hours a day 5 days a week with no touch to the outside world. In other states they are giving Vac to teachers now and.starting in person … Read More

    One. In California. We are blessed with great weather. Why are we not teaching outside? The damage being done to the kids will last a lifetime. The teachers are doing a horrible job with zoom teaching. Kids can’t sit on front of a computer for 5-6 hours a day 5 days a week with no touch to the outside world. In other states they are giving Vac to teachers now and.starting in person Feb 1.

    Teachers that don’t want to go to work where the environment is closely monitored also should not be going to Target, Wal Mart, home depot, grocery store etc. Those place are not monitored and very unsafe. If a home depot worker is essential and a teacher is not we as a society have a serious problem.

  32. Clayton 2 months ago2 months ago

    Uh. No.

    “Temporarily” will not be temporary. Why don’t you suggest throwing out employment contracts, too?

    Thank you for showing us your anti-labor stance.

  33. Janine Shapley 2 months ago2 months ago

    I disagree for 2 reasons. California schools are not one size fits all so a top-down solution isn't realistic and a step back from collective bargaining could kill it forever, as there are many entities who do not want what's best for labor and teachers are already undervalued and underpaid. The issue with the pandemic and school openings had been and continues to be safety. The media has stated loudly kids don't get the … Read More

    I disagree for 2 reasons. California schools are not one size fits all so a top-down solution isn’t realistic and a step back from collective bargaining could kill it forever, as there are many entities who do not want what’s best for labor and teachers are already undervalued and underpaid. The issue with the pandemic and school openings had been and continues to be safety. The media has stated loudly kids don’t get the virus, which is simply not true, but let’s say it is for the sake of making my point which is kids are carriers, spreaders and teachers do get the virus and they get very ill and even die.

    I ask would you expose yourself to 100 indoors contacts a day right now? 5 days a week? Teacher safety is never discussed, it’s all about the kids. I love my job, miss my students, want to return to school but don’t want to impair or end my healthy life. And I simply don’t trust a process to reopen without a contract or MOU for protection. Long-term, those who wish to end collective bargaining will do all they can to see it not return.

  34. Mr. Manguy 2 months ago2 months ago

    Well said but here's the problem. When a teacher gets sick, there's not enough substitutes to step in. Now who guides the class? Even if you split the school into A/B or 1/2, there won't be enough subs. A teacher is either in-person or virtual with no subs to count on, the classes will be left aimless. Now. Maybe classes aren't the priority, maybe socialization is more important? … Read More

    Well said but here’s the problem. When a teacher gets sick, there’s not enough substitutes to step in. Now who guides the class? Even if you split the school into A/B or 1/2, there won’t be enough subs. A teacher is either in-person or virtual with no subs to count on, the classes will be left aimless.

    Now. Maybe classes aren’t the priority, maybe socialization is more important? Then just hire the YMCA to babysit on each campus. No matter what, the increased numbers will lead to higher cases and the kids would be back home where they started.

  35. Tiger Craven-Neeley 2 months ago2 months ago

    Yes, kids need to get back into the classroom, but at what cost? How many older, overweight, diabetic, asthmatic, etc. teachers' lives are worth the risk? We're so close to having teachers vaccinated, that is where we should put our energies right now, not in vilifying teachers who want to stay alive. Teachers on average are hard-working bending over backwards using online learning, and want desperately to see kids back into school. I'm amazed how … Read More

    Yes, kids need to get back into the classroom, but at what cost? How many older, overweight, diabetic, asthmatic, etc. teachers’ lives are worth the risk? We’re so close to having teachers vaccinated, that is where we should put our energies right now, not in vilifying teachers who want to stay alive. Teachers on average are hard-working bending over backwards using online learning, and want desperately to see kids back into school.

    I’m amazed how quickly people are to expend Mrs. Beezly, while appeasing, ignoring, and pretending their is no Covid 19 problem that would certainly kill a small percentage of mostly older, hyper-health sensitive teachers, administrators, office staff, etc. If our President would put a small percentage of the energy he uses to manipulate his environment in attempts to remain in office towards vaccine dispersal, maybe kids would be back already. It’s Trump, the GOP Senate, and every Trump supporter we have to thank for the state we’re in.

  36. Jessica 2 months ago2 months ago

    If admin in these districts would give the union members what is needed to feel safe to come back to school then this problem would have been solved months ago. But that would require actual work to be done which admin has no idea how to accomplish.

  37. Mr. S 2 months ago2 months ago

    I agree with some bits. Disagree with others. As an educator of color teaching for Title 1 students though, I ask, please change the photo to something else. An affluent teenager on an Apple computer working in a much sought after quiet space doesn't really represent "diverse." Don't even get me started on all that wood. We have many students struggling in small studio apartments with multiple siblings and adults in the same space working … Read More

    I agree with some bits. Disagree with others. As an educator of color teaching for Title 1 students though, I ask, please change the photo to something else. An affluent teenager on an Apple computer working in a much sought after quiet space doesn’t really represent “diverse.” Don’t even get me started on all that wood.

    We have many students struggling in small studio apartments with multiple siblings and adults in the same space working on cheap Chromebooks. I’m sure you care a lot about students of color and low socioeconomic status so you can agree that your photo choice fails to represent the struggle of most students in California. You can’t expect people to take you seriously if you can’t even choose a photo that demonstrates real struggle.

  38. Tom Trimingham 2 months ago2 months ago

    I teach in a district where the superintendent made more than the governor and even with declining enrollment negotiated a 30 k raise. Then he created 4 assistants with astronomical salaries before telling us he needs to lay off teachers. This is why we have a union, not to exclude students.

    Replies

    • Christopher Archer 2 months ago2 months ago

      Not sure you are really helping kids now at this point. It will be 1 year they haven’t been in school. Many are not getting exercise and overeating at home. Some suicidal as you have taken away their hopes and dreams. Many don’t believe they will ever have the opportunity to return to normally.

  39. Mary 2 months ago2 months ago

    Just another male superintendent out of touch with reality. Doesn’t see a problem with teachers risking their lives and hasn’t heard about the deadly strains that kill kids. One day the world will be ruled by women, but only after the men have run it into the ground with their egos. Education is forever changed. Pandemics don’t end.... they exponentiate Maybe he should get back into the classroom. … Read More

    Just another male superintendent out of touch with reality. Doesn’t see a problem with teachers risking their lives and hasn’t heard about the deadly strains that kill kids. One day the world will be ruled by women, but only after the men have run it into the ground with their egos. Education is forever changed. Pandemics don’t end…. they exponentiate Maybe he should get back into the classroom. Every teacher knows that classrooms are the germiest places on earth.

    Replies

    • Jeremy 2 months ago2 months ago

      I agree that this superintendent is widely out of touch but I don’t see what his gender has to do with anything. As a male teacher I have no interest in going back to teaching in person unless it is safe for teachers, support staff, and students.

  40. Mark Loundy 2 months ago2 months ago

    Teachers have a right to defend themselves from the decisions of school boards that are pressured by economic interests and by parents who are willing to sacrifice teachers and the general public health to get their children into a classroom. Children are more durable than some people think. They will be fine, even after losing a year of in-person teaching. The decision to suspend collective bargaining is a legal non-starter. Even if it were eventually upheld in … Read More

    Teachers have a right to defend themselves from the decisions of school boards that are pressured by economic interests and by parents who are willing to sacrifice teachers and the general public health to get their children into a classroom.

    Children are more durable than some people think. They will be fine, even after losing a year of in-person teaching.

    The decision to suspend collective bargaining is a legal non-starter. Even if it were eventually upheld in the courts, this school year would be long over.

  41. Belinda lum 2 months ago2 months ago

    This op-ed is a joke and shows that EdSource yet again pretends to care about education while peddling pro- business / anti-student interests. Collective bargaining isn’t preventing re-opening, it’s saving lives. Had “local control” not met collective bargaining, more people would’ve died because they would put students and workers at risk. This author needs to stop with the name dropping and instead get educated on why unions have saved lives.

  42. Vickie J Borcher 2 months ago2 months ago

    Since we are so close to having all vaccinated including students, why are you advocating pushing forward before that time? That plan is ludricous since it still promoted community spread through children/students. More community spread = more mutations of the virus. More virus mutation = more possibility of the vaccine not being as effective or effective at all. It is a shame that science and history are shoved to the back under the rug when … Read More

    Since we are so close to having all vaccinated including students, why are you advocating pushing forward before that time? That plan is ludricous since it still promoted community spread through children/students. More community spread = more mutations of the virus. More virus mutation = more possibility of the vaccine not being as effective or effective at all. It is a shame that science and history are shoved to the back under the rug when it comes to education. This is the results, a total lack of understanding of the consequences of following this plan. – Science teacher

    Replies

    • Simona 1 month ago1 month ago

      Students will not be getting vaccinated and I hope they never will. I have two kids in California and I will not be jabbing them with uncertain poison to appease teachers, no thanks.

  43. Rebecca Black 2 months ago2 months ago

    I appreciate the approach outlined here and I find Mr. Cohn's credentials and expertise impressive. Newsom's incentive program seems designed to put pressure back on individual districts and seems like a cagey political dodge. Newsom should not chicken out and should work with the CTA asap to get schools to provide reopening plans to deploy when #s are lower. We are all watching. Unions say things like "We won't go back even after the … Read More

    I appreciate the approach outlined here and I find Mr. Cohn’s credentials and expertise impressive. Newsom’s incentive program seems designed to put pressure back on individual districts and seems like a cagey political dodge. Newsom should not chicken out and should work with the CTA asap to get schools to provide reopening plans to deploy when #s are lower. We are all watching. Unions say things like “We won’t go back even after the vaccine” that are just outrageous – follow their Twitter feeds.

    Unions do not advocate for children during a pandemic, only their own members. That’s as it should be, and why government needs to advocate for children to balance the power of the unions. Districts have cried out for help and guidance and statewide bargaining could provide this. If our local teachers’ union bargaining power is suspended, it can just be reinstated after the pandemic wanes. We have to do something here in CA, people.

  44. Edith Williams 2 months ago2 months ago

    I work in a high school and yes we have been closed but had distanced learning. My fear is with the student, parents, staff, and vendors who come on campus who temperature check out but two days later test positive for COVID-19! These people came on campus knowing they had been exposed to someone with Covid-19 or refuse to wear a mask! I personally feel schools should stay closed until … Read More

    I work in a high school and yes we have been closed but had distanced learning. My fear is with the student, parents, staff, and vendors who come on campus who temperature check out but two days later test positive for COVID-19!

    These people came on campus knowing they had been exposed to someone with Covid-19 or refuse to wear a mask! I personally feel schools should stay closed until all school staff can get the both vaccine shots. This would at least give us a since of protection for ourselves and our families.

  45. Enrique Tan-Ortiz 2 months ago2 months ago

    You write this as if it is Collective Bargaining that is keeping schools from opening up. The school districts are merely using the knowledge that is available to determine if opening safely is wise, which is not at the moment. This article implies that the school closures are the result of unions keeping the doors locked. You never state that, but you sure give that impression. Better thinking out of the box idea would have … Read More

    You write this as if it is Collective Bargaining that is keeping schools from opening up. The school districts are merely using the knowledge that is available to determine if opening safely is wise, which is not at the moment. This article implies that the school closures are the result of unions keeping the doors locked. You never state that, but you sure give that impression.

    Better thinking out of the box idea would have been pleading for our leaders to start fully funding education, especially since this pandemic has made more obvious the inequities that exist within the system so that when this pandemic is over we can have the schools that all our students deserve. Instead, you ask the teachers to sacrifice a little more at the altar of schools, while allowing those in leadership to continue with their lack of accountability.

  46. Henry Dubon 2 months ago2 months ago

    This is a complete betrayal to those teachers you worked with in Long Beach Unified. My daughter attends School in a predominantly Anglo school where the number of Covid cases is extremely low. I work in LAUSD, and every day my heart breaks when my students tell me about family members testing positive. California cannot use such a blindfolded approach to reopening schools.

  47. Liz Wilson 2 months ago2 months ago

    To get the kids back in school, including mine, what CA needs to do is vaccinate the age group that is spreading the virus so the numbers go down plus the teachers, then we can open up. Our kids are suffering on many levels. All ages 4-18.

    Replies

    • Rebecca Black 2 months ago2 months ago

      I don’t think the vaccine has been tested on children yet.

  48. Lorna Savella 2 months ago2 months ago

    This is outrageous! Would be Carl Cohn to try to get rid of the Union? Our teachers use our union for not just salary negotiations but for upholding our rights as teachers too! Teachers you need to be aware and open your eyes on what he is trying to do. We lose our union we lose our rights!!!

  49. Chuong 2 months ago2 months ago

    We want school to open, business open, shopping open, more jobs…everything will point to COVID 19 vaccines. We should spend more money to make and distribute COVID 19 vaccines. American don’t have freedom for almost a year because COVID 19 restriction.

  50. Nancy 2 months ago2 months ago

    How dare you trivialize the lives of my students and fellow teachers. It is precisely because of people like you, who are not teachers and are far removed from the realities of classroom instruction, that collective bargaining exists and is of critical importance! Without it, teachers and students would be like lambs to the slaughterhouse.

  51. christine miller 2 months ago2 months ago

    I am not a teacher, or part of the many people trying to find a safe way for children and teachers to get back to in person learning. I am a nurse and mother of 3, 2 of which are still school age. I have a suggestion that most people will probably laugh at, but at this point it can't hurt to throw it out there. Is it possible to have class outside? Hear me … Read More

    I am not a teacher, or part of the many people trying to find a safe way for children and teachers to get back to in person learning. I am a nurse and mother of 3, 2 of which are still school age. I have a suggestion that most people will probably laugh at, but at this point it can’t hurt to throw it out there. Is it possible to have class outside?

    Hear me out. If we had canopies, like the one people use for weddings, long tables that would allow for students to be 6 ft apart from each other, have rotating days for students, for small classes, more manageable. Have hand washing stations, or portable sink for children to wash hands frequently, require face masks. Have each child with their own supplies, no sharing, and wipes to disinfect their space frequently, face shields like we wear in hospitals for teachers. And testing of the children and staff frequently for Covid.

    As I said, just a thought, my 9 yr old daughter got Covid in the ACES program that she attended. No one is testing, or required to, the only thing that they require is no fever to attend. My daughter subsequently gave her sister, my ex-husband, and his parents Covid, because she had no symptoms. But she was playing with other kids who did, just no fever. I have argued not to have them attend the program just for this reason. But both my ex and I have no alternative. This is what made me think of this idea. Teenagers hired to babysit 40 kids and make sure they log in class is not the same as being in school.

    Replies

    • Manuela Brown 2 months ago2 months ago

      Outdoor class was used historically in previous epidemic situations–polio, influenza. Yet we can’t get any support for it in our district. My kids actually attended a summer camp run by our school’s PE coach. He could have been working with them outdoors all during this school year, but that was not permitted. It’s pathetic how little traction outdoor teaching has gotten in CA. I

  52. Maia Steward 2 months ago2 months ago

    I vehemently disagree with this opinion. Pretending that what is necessary for return to school in a heavily Covid stricken area of East Oakland, vs. rural schools in Shasta are in any way similar enough to be covered in a statewide agreement is irresponsible. You also cannot simultaneously state that there is a vast statewide shortage of staff and then expect to be able to open in-person safely. The criteria for re-opening does not match … Read More

    I vehemently disagree with this opinion. Pretending that what is necessary for return to school in a heavily Covid stricken area of East Oakland, vs. rural schools in Shasta are in any way similar enough to be covered in a statewide agreement is irresponsible.

    You also cannot simultaneously state that there is a vast statewide shortage of staff and then expect to be able to open in-person safely. The criteria for re-opening does not match the resources available and each local area’s ratio of criteria to resources will be different and changing throughout the coming months.

  53. Tonya Boyd 2 months ago2 months ago

    I am not expendable. Why is the burden of getting things going on the backs of educators ? This does require out of the box thinking, but not at the expense of educators. How about we accept that this is a pandemic and that things are not going ‘back to normal.’ I’d prefer the solution doesn’t include risking the lives of thousands of adults. This is an irresponsible and insensitive commentary.

    Replies

    • Andrew 2 months ago2 months ago

      So you’re suggesting doctors and nurses are expendable? And grocery store employees? And emergency services workers?

  54. kaisermomaof1 2 months ago2 months ago

    Get back in school? My kid has been in school since last March. What are you talking about? School is in session, now! Teachers are teaching, now! But, you want me to suspend science and disbelief at your suggestion and risk my child, my child's teachers, and my family's heath during an unparalleled surge in this pandemic, so that you can suspend collective bargaining for one of the lowest and unjustly compensated positions, riding a … Read More

    Get back in school? My kid has been in school since last March. What are you talking about? School is in session, now! Teachers are teaching, now! But, you want me to suspend science and disbelief at your suggestion and risk my child, my child’s teachers, and my family’s heath during an unparalleled surge in this pandemic, so that you can suspend collective bargaining for one of the lowest and unjustly compensated positions, riding a multiyear denigration of their worth, and suffering from major shortage for years?

  55. JOHN C COX 2 months ago2 months ago

    This is incredibly irresponsible. My district is relying on science and local trends to inform important decisions about returning. The School Board and Bargaining Unit have been in agreement every step of the way. This article is a reflection of current national rhetoric disregarding science for the will of the selfish and misinformed. Where is "conventional thinking" in a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic? And when does "thinking outside the box" equate to "disregard for data"? … Read More

    This is incredibly irresponsible. My district is relying on science and local trends to inform important decisions about returning. The School Board and Bargaining Unit have been in agreement every step of the way. This article is a reflection of current national rhetoric disregarding science for the will of the selfish and misinformed.

    Where is “conventional thinking” in a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic? And when does “thinking outside the box” equate to “disregard for data”? Hospitals are at or beyond capacity. Your style of leadership would further cripple our health care system.

  56. San Jose CFO 2 months ago2 months ago

    There will be no temporary suspension of collective bargaining. Way to play right into the hands of privatizers, Carl! That would mean the end of public education in CA, which, based on your track record, surprises me that you would even mention it. So, can I suggest that you bring your family with you, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, and teach in a poorly ventilated classroom with 30+ adolescents who cannot distance themselves socially and … Read More

    There will be no temporary suspension of collective bargaining. Way to play right into the hands of privatizers, Carl! That would mean the end of public education in CA, which, based on your track record, surprises me that you would even mention it.

    So, can I suggest that you bring your family with you, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, and teach in a poorly ventilated classroom with 30+ adolescents who cannot distance themselves socially and maintain their mask discipline. We’ll see how you and your family fair over the next five months.

    It all looks so good on paper. But all the protocols are not going to stop an airborne virus in a school setting. There are plenty of valid studies which now show that young people get and spread the virus. Schools are not hospitals. And unfortunately, CA has a poor track record with respect to school funding, and the actual implementation of policies.

    So, again, put your family at risk first. I’ll wait for a vaccine. The kids will be ok. It’s the adults I’m worried about.

  57. Lara 2 months ago2 months ago

    Spoken like a typical, out of touch administrator.

  58. Karen M Field 2 months ago2 months ago

    Once you take away local bargaining, even in an emergency, the public and government will believe they can do it anytime. You are eroding the collective bargaining power and safety of all school employees and unions.

  59. Linda Nutile 2 months ago2 months ago

    So bypass collective bargaining to force teachers into the classroom during a global pandemic. That’s your solution? That’s “outside the box?” Is there some untapped cadre of teachers that the state does not know about? Ready and willing to risk their health and safety and that of their family and while implementing solid curriculum, respective of students’ community and mental health?

  60. Eric Premack 2 months ago2 months ago

    Thanks Carl for writing what our leaders should have been calling for since last March. While some significant disruption was inevitable, our most deserving children are paying a tragic price for their lack of leadership and backbone.

  61. Diane Anderson 2 months ago2 months ago

    Why in god's name would we open schools at a time when cases have just barely began to plateau.? Los Angeles schools tried to open and found one in three children are now being infected with no approved injection available for children! I realize we need to get our kids back to some sense of normalcy; however let's get a good grip on this virus before we stir up the pot.Sure teachers will be … Read More

    Why in god’s name would we open schools at a time when cases have just barely began to plateau.? Los Angeles schools tried to open and found one in three children are now being infected with no approved injection available for children!

    I realize we need to get our kids back to some sense of normalcy; however let’s get a good grip on this virus before we stir up the pot.Sure teachers will be immunized but kids cannot, and have families including many grandparents living In their homes. I feel we need to put on the brakes on this one. Think about our children for a change.

  62. Dr. David Patterson 2 months ago2 months ago

    Extraordinary times require extraordinary actions. This can be an effective way to remove a huge barrier to getting students back into classrooms. "Distance learning" as we now have it is failing too many students and their families, and the longer it goes the more harm to children is occurring (even with the heroic efforts of teachers and staff). The proposed approach can also quickly create a framework that provides the health safeguards and protections staff, … Read More

    Extraordinary times require extraordinary actions. This can be an effective way to remove a huge barrier to getting students back into classrooms. “Distance learning” as we now have it is failing too many students and their families, and the longer it goes the more harm to children is occurring (even with the heroic efforts of teachers and staff). The proposed approach can also quickly create a framework that provides the health safeguards and protections staff, students and are communities need to return to in-person schooling.

  63. Kenneth Hall 2 months ago2 months ago

    Thank you, Carl. Right on. A common negotiated state wide protocol would be very positive and would save thousands of hours for both school districts/county offices as well as the bargaining unit’s unions.

  64. Andrew 2 months ago2 months ago

    The first step in getting kids back in school, in person, seems pretty simple to me. First, you vaccinate the teachers and let a couple of weeks pass for full immunity to develop. With that accomplished, all sorts of options are open. Neither this piece nor the piece by Mark Brilliant seem to specifically recognize the importance of vaccinating teachers, having them develop effective Covid immunity before exposing them to risks. Some … Read More

    The first step in getting kids back in school, in person, seems pretty simple to me. First, you vaccinate the teachers and let a couple of weeks pass for full immunity to develop. With that accomplished, all sorts of options are open.

    Neither this piece nor the piece by Mark Brilliant seem to specifically recognize the importance of vaccinating teachers, having them develop effective Covid immunity before exposing them to risks.

    Some irresponsibly claim that social distancing and masks are as effective as vaccines as they advocate return to in person education, apparently in advance of vaccination immunity. Yet despite social distance and mask mandates, the Covid rate in LA has skyrocketed and many deaths have resulted. I will be very surprised if vaccines aren’t far, far more effective.

    Teachers in Northern Nevada reportedly received vaccinations starting last Saturday. Edsource reports at least one CA county is getting teachers vaccinated. Why not the rest of CA? When?

    If teacher well-being or survival resulting from waiting for Covid vaccinations aren’t enough to motivate those demanding fast return to in-person classes, they might want to consider the financial worker’s compensation ramifications. A teacher who likely contracts an infection at school and is hospitalized may make a worker’s comp claim against the district employer, who in turn is responsible for medical bills, not the health insurer. The dollar amounts of such claims could be huge, even in a single comp case. It would be naive to assume that the comp carriers will not pass such costs on in their worker’s comp insurance premiums paid by districts. If there is resulting teacher death or long term disability from school contracted Covid, the financial consequences for schools could be even worse.

    This financial risk could be largely avoided by (1) awaiting vaccination of teachers and immunity before in-person classes resume, and (2) getting teachers vaccinated sooner as other areas are doing.