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By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Union demands too many: Open up the schools now!

Uploaded: Feb 21, 2021
Should teachers be prioritized over others to get the coronavirus vaccine? Most of us would probably say yes, BUT… and there’s usually a “but” about most issues.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked the same question, and he said (paraphrased), that teachers should get a shot but the teachers’ unions are demanding that no school open until every teacher in the country gets the vaccination. That’s a sine qua non approach (essential condition to open) abut there’s no way we can get vaccines quickly to all teachers nationwide, he added.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), wrote a column in an AFT advertisement in the NYT Sunday and said 54 percent of her teachers worry that they may get infected with COVID-19 and 71 percent fear they could infect someone in their family, although most teachers are willing to return if increased safety provisions were in place. Those provisions include improved ventilation in classrooms (an expensive project which states will have trouble funding), mask-wearing, student distancing, hand washing, professional teacher training to meet the new challenges, and providing money for summer classes to readopt the children to “classroom learning.” Unions’ safety needs include mitigation strategies to prevent the spread, including vaccine prioritization for teachers and school staff, accommodation for pre-existing conditions, enabling in-person learning, and direct relief to families meeting the brunt of COVID-19

Those are a broad, costly and time-consuming array of union demands, some hard to get in place. In total, this is a ridiculous way to get back to educating our kids in a real classroom.

I talked to several friends, some of whom were teachers or had family members who were teachers. “The teachers didn’t sign up for this hazardous duty,” most of them said.

And what about health care workers or grocery clerks, I asked. The response: “Health care workers know they would be working with sick patients and grocery clerks – well, they are limiting the number of people in a store at one time,” was the response of several.

So, let’s instead look at the science of returning kids to classrooms.

I can easily agree that all teachers in a school should be vaccinated – if they want to. But scientists are finding that in-classroom teaching is much less risky that anticipated. A NYT article said studies show that schools can be safely reopened with common-sense precautions (masks, some distancing, hand washing). The Center for Disease Control and Protection recently reported that “studies have been found that “in-person learning in schools has not been associated with community transmission, while a Duke University study showed that “within-school infections are extremely rare.”

My primary concern is for the kids. Many have lost almost of year of in-class learning, and most kids and their parents have said video learning – well, “it sucks.” Parents see their kids inactive, bored and depressed. They’ve forgotten much of what they learned in some subjects, like math.

I tried some outside-the-box thinking:

• What if the K-7 teachers taught from home but the kids came to their school classroom? A school could hire a class monitor to keep order in the room, hand out assignments, collect reports, etc. That way the kids would learn more – from the teacher and from each other, and those kids without zoom accessibility at home could start learning again by attending school?

• What if the rate of coronavirus cases continues to decline? Then in June, classes could begin and the 2021-22 school year could have three semesters, as a way to get back to catch-up?

• What if schools had split sessions – half the students came in the morning and half in the afternoon, resulting in fewer kids in each class every day?

• What if teachers were assured that just one vaccine shot is enough? With the two-dose vaccines, if I am a teacher and got my first shot tomorrow, I could not return to the classroom for almost two months – four weeks between shots and three weeks until the second shot takes effect. That’s a long wait.

If their unions demand no classes occur until all teachers get fully vaccinated, that means 1n average of 25 kids per class per day will not be going to school, and one of their parents will not be going to work – 50 people per day.

Do the math, teachers’ unions. If 50 people are affected for one teacher’s concerns, what’s the societal effect? If 25 kids per class learn a lot less during a school year because of closed schools, what will that portend for a so-called educated society? What is the best solution for the greatest number?

Science and data are showing that schools can reopen. Educators and psychiatrists are telling us that kids are having health problems and depression because they must stay home all the time. So, open up the schools – now!

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


 +   34 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Feb 21, 2021 at 6:49 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Teachers should get the vaccine under the condition that they'll return to the classroom immediately. Otherwise, they can wait in line like the rest of us. Healthcare workers may have signed up to take care of the sick, but grocery store clerks, etc. didn't.

If teachers can't put the kids first, they're in the wrong profession.

 +   37 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Feb 21, 2021 at 7:50 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

There is no greater and more implacable enemy of children than the teachers' union.

 +   37 people like this
Posted by Bob Ohlmann, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Feb 22, 2021 at 11:22 am

Bob Ohlmann is a registered user.

I think the teacher's unions are just representing the way most teachers think. My grandaughter is an 8th-Grade history teacher and she is very fearful of going back to in-person teaching until she has had two anti-virus vaccinations. Perhaps much younger students do not significantly spread the virus, but I'm not sure about 8th graders.

 +   21 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 22, 2021 at 12:44 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

So many things that I would like to say on this topic, but space constraints and the fact that I have said them before means I won't take the time and energy to do this.

However, the Unions are basically not interested in educating children. They are out to protect their members. I can't say that the Unions position here will ever be on the side of families or children. Saying that, remember what happened in Oakley with the "Open Mic" fiasco! The Unions would never call their members babysitters, but I think they probably have the same overall attitude where they feel that the needs of the members outweigh the needs of the children, and basically the children could be considered minor inconveniences into the smooth running of the schools. I seem to remember a "Yes Minister" episode where a brand new hospital had been opened with doctors, nurses and admin staff and was running smoothly but yet not one patient had been admitted! The question was asked whether patients should get in the way of the smooth running of the hospital! Does that seem familiar here?

 +   64 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Erman, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 23, 2021 at 3:07 am

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

I have worked in schools for years, including Palo Alto schools. A great many of my friends are teachers. They are among the most hard-working, dedicated people I know. They would do almost anything to educate your children and keep them safe. They have worked unbelievably hard during the pandemic to do their jobs under extraordinarily difficult situations.

And what do they get from many of you here on Town Square and elsewhere in the community?

Stereotypes, mischaracterizations, suppositions, and slander. I am tired of the uninformed, unfair, and untrue things people keep saying about teachers and their unions here and elsewhere on Palo Alto Online. If you have something to say, even something critical, say it respectfully and appropriately, but please stop insulting people you don't know and impugning their motives just because you want someone to blame for the current state of affairs.

That's all. Carry on. Have a nice day. Thanks!

 +   18 people like this
Posted by StarSpring, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 23, 2021 at 8:47 am

StarSpring is a registered user.

Jeremy Erman, well said.

 +   23 people like this
Posted by Anony Mouse, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 23, 2021 at 11:34 am

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

What an astonishing myth you create. The all knowing, all powerful union- that's the villain? Obviously, that's not true, or my pay would be far better. I realize this is an opinion piece, but if you'd done any reporting, you'd see that after the MOU was signed over the summer, PAEA has been kept at arm's length. Admin is forcing secondary teachers to Zoom from their classrooms - because they have the power to do that. There was nothing PAEA could do about it so it's happening. The fact is, there has been miniscule use of PAUSD+. There was less than 10% interest in the previous secondary opening plan. None of these facts had anything to do with PAEA. Primary schools are functioning with a choice model - hybrid or DL, and the numbers don't reflect a tremendous desire for hybrid - it looks like it's around 50%? PAEA has nothing to do with the choice that families made. It would be more helpful if this piece took into account all the stakeholders and their choices. Lastly, as for the "outside the box thinking", I suppose all of them are possible in a sense. The main problem? Money. A 3rd semester - $$$$. Teachers Zoom from home/kids come to school? - $$$ The other proposals? Let's let the public health professionals decide.

 +   26 people like this
Posted by A Channing family member, a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 23, 2021 at 12:00 pm

A Channing family member is a registered user.

Here's a quick suggestion for everyone who's convinced schools should be open NOW or that the teachers are just being too risk averse:

If you believe that, then commit to work one full day a week in a reopened school on the SAME basis as the teachers. If they haven't received a vaccine yet, then you don't get one either. If the ventilation is poor or the windows have to be open all the time, regardless of how cold or warm it is, that applies to you too. You get the same PPE as the teachers, no more, no less (you can't bring your extra special mask or face shield from home). And if there are too many kids in class, if they don't always follow the rules and if parents don't always follow proper social distancing, then you get to experience that too.

If you're willing to sign up for all of that right now, great! Come to your local school, we need you! And if you're not willing to do that, then why do you think other people (teachers) should be forced to take risks (with a still potentially deadly or long-term debilitating disease) when you aren't willing to take yourself?

And if you think we now know all about COVID and the risks from kids aren't all that great, just remember that it takes DECADES before the "chickenpox" virus (varicella-zoster) re-emerges in adults as shingles...

 +   15 people like this
Posted by Children are the future, a resident of another community,
on Feb 23, 2021 at 2:30 pm

Children are the future is a registered user.

It is evident to me that many who post here do not have children who attend local public middle and high schools. If you did, you'd probably have a little more empathy for kids who are required to sit around Zooming for 4-5 hours a day and have had little to no in person social interaction for a year - just like adults.

I recently volunteered to proctor the makeup PSAT. It was challenging but not impossible to meet the requirements (TB test, FBI background checks). The additional requirement to supervise students who will be Zooming in person is a provisional substitute teaching certificate. It's not as easy to “volunteer" as you think, still regular people (with or without vaccines) will do it because students deserve to have something, anything in person at school.

Our local public high schools have been given extra funds to install hospital grade filtration systems in all classrooms, the windows and doors were left open and there was ample PPE. By SCC health guidelines, there is a maximum amount of students who are allowed in a room. The class I was in held 12 though in regular times it probably holds up to 30.

I proctored for four hours - I have spent more time in a high school classroom than my freshman student.

I am happy for people who have been able to get vaccinated, they get to make plans to return to a more normal life. Guess what - only one of the current vaccines is available for high school students who are age 16+. But, 16 year olds aren't even allowed to get the shot because they have no priority. There are no vaccines available yet for children under 16.

For the last year, we've all sacrificed to try and protect the most vulnerable. Now that the vaccines are available for the most physically vulnerable, can't we go back to protecting children?

Why must my student continue to be sacrificed, especially since teachers now have 1B status and are allowed to get vaccines as early as next week?

 +   29 people like this
Posted by Avery Sommerville, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 24, 2021 at 9:02 am

Avery Sommerville is a registered user.

I suspect that many parents endorsing a return to school policy are simply tired of being home care providers for their under-aged children.

School is not a day care center alternative for lazy parenting.

 +   13 people like this
Posted by Diana Diamond, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Feb 24, 2021 at 11:03 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Today's (2-24) San Jose Mercury posted an article that said that California is 49th in the country in getting students back to school. It must be our sub-zero temperatures that are causing our schools to open so slowly.

Diana Diamond

 +   21 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Erman, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 24, 2021 at 3:42 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

California is also the most populous state in the U.S., and the Bay Area is one of the most populous, cosmopolitan regions in the state. More COVID-19 cases and deaths have been reported in California than any other state, unfortunately. Schools may not be major transmitters of community spread of the disease if safety protocols are followed, but they tend to reflect the level of community spread that already exists--in regions with higher cases of COVID-19, schools will show higher levels. So it makes sense for California to be more cautious in reopening schools because of the high stakes involved.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
17 hours ago

Resident is a registered user.

@Diana Diamond, I don't know what you're complaining about -- I read the same article you did, and we're still ahead of Maryland, so what's the problem.

I also read that over 100 private schools in San Francisco have reopened, but it's ok they're just for rich kids.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Long time local, a resident of Monta Loma,
6 hours ago

Long time local is a registered user.

I'm generally not very pro-union, but the comments criticizing the teachers unions seems really off base. I'm far more concerned with what I see from the superintendent and board of trustees. If I worked for those people, I would pressing my union to keep them honest, too.

What I have seen and heard from the MVWSD during the pandemic is not what I would call a thoughtful response. Building fences around our schools and parks is a priority? As a community, we need to get our priorities straight, and that means “helping" our “leaders" focus on real issues. Turning our schools into prisons, and therein diminishing their value, is not something we should be wasting our time and resources on.

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