What Happens to Schools Will Be a Big Political Issue

Education

What Happens to Schools Will Be a Big Political Issue

We have been tracking, with great interest, the dizzying discussion about what schools are going to do in the fall.

San Diego Unified School District Trustee John Lee Evans speaks at the press conference announcing that schools would close March 16. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post originally appeared in the June 6 Politics Report. Get the Politics Report delivered to your inbox.

We have been tracking, with great interest, the dizzying discussion about what schools are going to do in the fall. I did a piece about the enrollment crisis and upheaval in the longstanding geographic philosophy of American education that would occur if distance learning continues. And Will Huntsberry reported that San Diego Unified now feels more confident about planning for some kind of functioning physical campuses.

Last week, we ran a commentary from June Cutter, the Republican who is challenging Assemblyman Brian Maienschein in the northern part of the city of San Diego in Assembly District 77.

Cutter says schools need to open in the fall. Period.

“We must weigh the ever-changing risks of the COVID-19 virus against the permanent educational, emotional and social damage we are inflicting on the next generation,” she wrote.

She’s on the same page as John Lee Evans, a board member for the San Diego Unified School District.

“Distance learning doesn’t do it. It’s time to talk about physically reopening our schools. With adequate testing/tracing and affordable safety measures we need to find a way to physically reopen #sdschools in the fall. Partially reopening doesn’t work for students or parents,” Evans tweeted.

Several teachers unions, meanwhile, are trying to mobilize to push against state budget cuts and “fight for a federal bailout.” They’re asking allies to sign a petition.

“Months of education deprivation must lead to more resources to education, public health and social infrastructure, not less. Distance learning, expanded privatization, and increased reliance on virtual education will never replace the essential role our public schools and educators play,” reads the petition.

Distance learning to stay? For some: San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten hinted that the district was preparing to bring kids back to physical campuses. Distance learning, she said in her weekly Facebook chat, would remain, though, for students with health concerns.

“We know we have some students who are medically fragile; that it would be very dangerous for them to go back to an environment where they could be exposed and students like that may need to stay in distance learning longer and we want to make sure they have some support for that distance learning to be as successful as possible,” she said.

The state issued guidance on schools reopening Friday. The state never actually closed schools. But the San Diego County public health order did. It was updated this week, and the prohibition on schools opening is still in it.

The state’s guidelines: They are not strict rules. It seems like the state is telling counties to figure out the specifics. Most of the points in the guidance use verbs like “consider ways to” and “minimize” though there was one “should” that stuck out for educators: “All staff should use cloth face coverings unless Cal/OSHA standards require respiratory protection. Teachers can use face shields, if available, which enable younger students to see their teachers’ faces and to avoid potential barriers to phonological instruction.”

And no sharing! (Hat tip for this catch to Mackenzie Mays of Politico, who pointed out sharing used to be kind of a big deal in elementary school.)

A section of the state’s guidance on school reopening.

This one is pretty good: “Actively encourage staff and students who are sick or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home.”

Sources in the public health department tell me there’s a proposed an amendment to that wording in the works. It would be changed to: “Actively encourage sStaff and students who are sick or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 to should stay the fuck home.”

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