Commentary: Plan to reopen Newport-Mesa schools raises multiple concerns
We, more than a hundred educators, staff, and community members of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, are coming together to strongly oppose the Level 2 hybrid model announced by the district on Sept. 11.
This hastily sketched plan is being pushed through even though it has not taken our concerns into consideration or been communicated clearly to interested parties. Moreover, this plan threatens the physical, emotional and academic wellness of our students and community.
With so much at stake, deciding how and when to return to campus must be done with the best interests of our students and community in mind. Once we open our doors again, we will have to deal with the consequences that result.
Here are some of our most pressing concerns:
This plan is rushed and careless. Elementary schools are set to reopen in less than two weeks, and secondary schools by Oct. 12, but the district has yet to answer basic questions about its plan. Chief among them: What educational options would be provided for students who cannot return at this time? What about teachers and staff, including those who are in high-risk categories or care for vulnerable loved ones?
This plan is ineffective. The small amount of time students would spend in the same room as their teachers offers little benefit, since the necessary precautions would prevent students from participating in even the most basic social interactions with their classmates. They would not be able to work collaboratively with their peers. They would have to spend meal times, breaks and passing periods at least 6 feet away from their friends.
This plan is damaging to mental health. This plan would rob our students of the routine and predictability they’ve established so far, throwing them into a completely new system in the middle of the semester. They would have to navigate multiple different schedules every week and learn a whole set of safety protocols, all with less sleep to accommodate traveling to campus. What’s more, some young children and students with special needs may be disturbed by the dramatic changes required to keep us all safe.
This plan is unreasonable. The complexities of working during a pandemic have already brought about a significant increase in stress for parents, teachers, nurses, counselors and support staff. Educators and school personnel would be tasked with providing a meaningful education for students both on and off campus with limited resources, plus the burden of keeping everyone safe. They would not have the time to provide the individual attention, care and support our students so desperately need and deserve. Meanwhile, family members would have to accommodate multiple different schedules each week and still support their children through distance learning at home.
This plan is unsafe. Although Orange County has met the bare minimum state requirements for reopening, we have only moved into the red tier, the second-worst of four categories. This means there is still a substantial risk of community disease transmission. This is all the more concerning considering the glaring holes in the district’s proposed safety protocols:
• Teachers would be stuck in enclosed rooms with their students for up to two hours at a time, many without functioning windows. Children in TK through second grade would not even be required to wear masks. And all day long, we would rely on hundreds, if not thousands, of students at each school site to adhere to strict safety protocols, surrounded by friends they haven’t seen in months.
• Schools would not be administering COVID-19 tests, and staff members would be required to conduct temperature checks by sight. That means we won’t know there’s a problem until someone shows or reports symptoms. At that point, it will be too late; our students, loved ones, neighbors and colleagues will already be exposed to the virus, risking death, long-lasting health impacts and financial hardship.
We have already seen the consequences of rushing into reopening, with outbreaks at TK-12 schools and universities throughout the country. Imagine how disruptive it will be for our students if groups are required to quarantine, or if entire schools have to shut down suddenly. Worse, imagine the immense toll it will take on our students if they see their classmates, teachers, or family members get sick or even die.
We ask you to insist that the district do the following: Listen to and communicate clearly and honestly with all stakeholders before making final decisions. Keep students safe at home until we are at lower risk for community transmission. Provide strong safety protocols with defined contingencies to minimize infection and respond efficiently in the case of an outbreak. Ensure that the educational benefits of returning to campus outweigh the risks involved.
Please join us in this fight for a safe and effective reopening. You can find the contact information for the NMUSD school board at web.nmusd.us/board; please let them know that you oppose the Level 2 hybrid model released on Sept. 11, and urge them to work with the community to develop a plan that serves and protects all of us. To show your support and add your voice, sign our petition at tinyurl.com/nmusdsafereopening.
Alex Goodman is an English teacher at Newport Harbor High School. This commentary represents the views of Concerned Members of the NMUSD Community.
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