Santa Clara Unified Reopening Plan – Letter to the Editor

Dear Superintendent Kemp & Board of Trustees,

“I did not teach for 34 years to die in my 35th year of teaching.”  These words were spoken by a highly respected teacher in our district who is high-risk for COVID should she return to campus.  Yet she, like many other teachers in the district whom I have personally communicated with, feel that the district is strong-arming them into a return despite the risks to their health and overall well-being.

I am writing to express profound disappointment and disillusionment with the district regarding the handling of reopening plans for elementary schools in Santa Clara Unified.  It is clear that the district is doing everything within its power to skew survey results, both from staff and parents, toward hybrid and in-person learning.  The district is then using biased results to justify a return to in-person learning despite the inherent risks to students and staff.

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In an email sent to staff this afternoon, Assistant Superintendent Kevin Keegan stated, “Based on early enrollment and survey results, we know we have to prepare for a robust year long distance learning program across the grades PreK-5 in general education and special education.”  Given that the survey Keegan references is not due from parents until July 31, this statement is not founded upon fact but rather presumption.  The email sent to staff goes on to inform teachers that those who select distance learning as their preferred instructional model may be placed in another grade level, and they will not be informed until August 10th of their job assignment for the year.  This clearly is a push to get teachers to select hybrid and in-person learning in order to retain their current positions, grade levels, and school sites.  Teachers want to stay in their communities.  They want to retain their positions in the district and teach within their grade level expertise.  As such, many teachers will feel pressure to select hybrid learning in order to keep their current positions despite the dangers that could come with a premature return to campuses.  The fact that there is no option for a teacher to select distance learning and remain at their school site is further proof of the district’s biased agenda toward hybrid learning.  This is unethical and totally unnecessary as teachers should not be forced to make a choice between their job and their health when none of us know when or if we will return to school campuses this year.

My husband and I are both teachers in Fremont Union High School District, and the differences between how our district and SCUSD have handled the transition into the upcoming school year are staggering.  Every communication teachers have received from FUHSD have come from a place of valuing and listening to staff.  FUHSD has consistently prioritized teacher input and has taken a comprehensive approach to including the community in the conversation while treating the concerns of its staff with the utmost respect.  After negotiating with the union, the district decided to implement full distance learning for at least the first six weeks of instruction.  This is reasonable and I trust that FUHSD will once again poll our staff and make decisions for future instructional models based upon our level of comfort with in-person learning as well as taking into consideration current levels of COVID in our community to ensure that when we do return it is fully safe to do so.  FUHSD is setting teachers up for success by giving us ample time to plan and build robust learning opportunities for students in a remote setting.  This same courtesy is not being extended to elementary teachers in SCUSD who will have less than a week of working days to prepare for their job assignments despite the fact that these job assignments may vary significantly from the positions they have held in the past as they could be teaching a different grade level in an unfamiliar school community.  Never once have I felt manipulated nor had a reason to mistrust the FUHSD district leadership; unfortunately, these negative feelings do pervade when I consider the communication teachers and parents have received from SCUSD in recent weeks and months.

I previously wrote to communicate disappointment in SCUSD regarding the fact that parents are being asked to select an instructional model for the entire academic year before school even starts.  My arguments for why this is absolutely unnecessary remain intact: any selection we make at this point in time will be premature and based entirely upon speculation rather than fact as none of us know how or when it will be safe to return to school.  Granting parents an extension of one week has yielded no more information from which we can make an informed decision that will impact our children for an entire year of their academic growth.  Unfortunately, it is clear that the district is also trying to manipulate this survey so that parents will disproportionately select hybrid and in person instruction as this is the only way to guarantee that our students stay at their current school sites.  The district has also made it clear that parents who do not make a selection by the 31st will be defaulted into selecting a hybrid model, which will further skew results toward an in person return.  Never are we asked how comfortable or safe we feel regarding this decision. This puts an undue pressure upon families with two working parents (or single parents) to select a hybrid model as their jobs likely will not allow for a full year commitment toward distance learning at this point in time.  This will perpetuate inequities in the district and put some of the most vulnerable members of our community at a higher risk for contracting COVID; it is unconscionable that the district would ask us to make such a choice before the school year even begins.

The common denominator between both of the surveys distributed by the district is that both staff and parents must make a clear choice between a return to in-person learning at their school site or distance learning at a site subject to the district’s discretion.  Both teachers and parents feel pressured to select hybrid learning and therefore any survey results that have been sent by the district to date are not viable nor reliable sources of information.

At this point I would like to call upon the district and the board to take a different course of action in planning for the school year.  Go back to the teachers union.  Give them an opportunity to collect honest feedback from the teachers regarding returning to on campus learning.  In the meantime, have school sites put together class lists for distance learning so that we can all remain within the comfort of our communities during this uncertain time.  Once our county has come off of the watch list it will be appropriate to plan for a possible return to in-person learning.  At that point the district can determine staffing taking into full consideration that it is our responsibility as a community to keep our high-risk teachers safe and give them the option to continue to teach remotely if needed.  Once staffing has been determined the district should once again poll families to see who is comfortable returning to campus and who would like to be paired with a distance educator.

I would be amiss if I did not also mention my disappointment that the district has elected to limit open comments during tonight’s board meeting.  The plan to restrict communication from the community is another glaring example of the district’s attempt to push an in-person learning agenda, despite the risks this will have for students, staff, and parents.  At this point the community has no confidence in the leadership at the highest tiers of the district.  As such I am cc’ing the editors for Santa Clara Weekly upon this communication as I want my voice heard as I advocate for teachers and students across the district.

 

Sincerely,

Jane Gilmore

Washington Open Parent

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