SAN JOSE, CA — A South Bay teachers’ union is pushing back against plans to reopen public schools for in-person classes next month amid a pandemic that’s spiraling out of control.
San Jose Teachers Association President Patrick Bernhardt said in a letter to San Jose Unified School District Superintendent Nancy Albarrán that opening schools at time when case counts are rising throughout the state and much of the nation poses a health risk.
Santa Clara County’s largest school district serves approximately 30,000 students in 41 schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. The union represents approximately 1,700 teachers according to its website.
Bernhardt’s letter said teachers are opposed to reopening classes for in-person instruction until conditions are safe for instructors and students as case counts continue to surge. The union posted a copy of the letter on its Facebook page.
“Teachers do not feel that it is safe to return to teaching in person, and in large majority, they are unwilling to do so at this time,” the letter read.
Jodi Disario, a 49-year-old district teacher who is at high risk of complications should she contract the virus, told The San Francisco Chronicle she’s committed to doing all she can for her students but isn’t willing to put her life on the line.
“I have limits,” Disario said. “I’ll work 60-hour weeks. I’ll buy thousands of dollars of supplies,” she said. “But I think I need to draw the line at dying.”
The district issued a statement acknowledging that at this point its plans for an Aug. 12 reopening of schools for in-person instructions appears to be a highly unlikely.
“In response to this latest information, San José Unified is reassessing the details of returning students to their classrooms in the fall,” the district’s statement said.
The district is asking parents to complete a survey to help it move forward.
“Unfortunately, the most recent information on the spread of the virus in California is trending in the wrong direction. In addition, the leaders of the San José Teachers Association (SJTA), in alignment with the California Teachers Association (CTA), have just informed us that they believe it is unsafe for teachers to provide in-person instruction and that their members will not return to classrooms at this time,” the district’s statement said.
“We remain committed to providing high-quality, equitable learning for our students for the 2020-2021 school year, but we cannot do that without teachers. In response to this latest information, San José Unified is reassessing the details of returning students to their classrooms in the fall and we need to collect more information from our community to take the next step.”
Bernhardt’s says teachers are eager to return to the classroom when it’s safe to do so.
“SJTA members desperately want to return to normalcy to see their students, to teach their classes and to fully return to the school communities they love. That desire has driven the work of the SJTA representatives on district committees and task forces through May and June as they have participated in the process of developing the reopening plan,” Bernhardt’s letter says.
“In the background however, COVID has raged on, and in the almost three weeks since the last SJUSD Reopening Task Force meeting the metrics have become dire in California and Santa Clara County, particularly in the zip codes served by the SJUSD.”
Bernhardt cites a failed response to the pandemic that has plunged the United States into the biggest crisis in over 100 years as the vast majority of the civilized world has returned to a greater sense of normalcy.
“… experiences in Oregon and Texas have begun to cast doubt on the claim that children are less susceptible to infection, and it is increasingly clear that we will not have the public health hallmarks common to all successful European school re-openings: omnipresent testing, contact tracing and case isolation.”