For the past year, Adrienne Rodriguez has watched with mounting worry as her first-grade daughter Hope stares at a computer screen at home, absorbing lessons from her public elementary school that amount to half the number of instruction hours that kids at nearby private schools have been getting in person since the fall.
And she’s hardly impressed by Gilroy Unified School District’s plans to welcome Hope and other students who want in-person learning back to the classroom. The district’s proposal won’t bring her daughter’s grade back to campus until April 15, and for less than three hours a day, four days a week.
“It’s just very minimal instructional time,” Rodriguez said, echoing public school parents throughout the Bay Area who are frustrated with being offered only partial and limited reopening plans even as coronavirus infection rates plummet, teachers get vaccinated and science shows schools can safely reopen.
Parents in several school districts including Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High, Cupertino Union and San Francisco Unified, have even mounted recall efforts against school trustees over dissatisfaction with reopening plans.
On Thursday the California Teachers Association, representing public school teachers who have resisted reopening efforts out of safety concerns, released the results of a poll it commissioned that indicates those dissatisfied parents are a vocal minority.
It found 70% of parents approve of their school district’s reopening plans and 65% are satisfied with their child’s education in the current school year. It also found that 44% of parents think that schools are reopening at the right pace, 33% say they are opening too quickly and just 23% say it’s happening too slowly. The poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates of 1,839 registered voters and 661 public school parents conducted online and by phone earlier this month. It has a margin of error of 4 percentage points for surveyed parents.
“Getting back into the classroom is important, but not if it means risking anyone getting sick,” said Sasha Shane, an Oakland parent, in a teachers association news conference on the findings. “We don’t want our kids to get sick and we also don’t want them to bring COVID home and infect other family members.”
Jonathan Zachreson, a father of two in Roseville and founder of the parent group Open Schools California, was having none of it. The group this week launched a petition calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to require schools to offer full-time, on-campus instruction in areas with manageable infection rates.
“The CTA conducting their own biased and poorly worded study doesn’t change the fact their obstructionist behavior and science denying policies are hurting millions of school children and their families,” Zachreson said Thursday.
A gnawing irritation for many, Zachreson said, is that schools are only partly reopening for the last weeks of the school year, even after teachers have been vaccinated, infection rates have fallen, schools have received reopening money and federal health experts say students don’t need to be kept 6 feet apart in classrooms.
“Despite all this, many schools across California refuse to open more than a few hours a week or even open at all this school year,” Zachreson said.
California has trailed other states in its pace and extent of reopening and has some of the fewest districts fully open, according to private organizations that have kept track nationally, The state has used a generous definition of reopening — offering all students in at least one grade in-person learning, even if “for only certain days during the week.”
For many parents, the pace is not keeping up with declining infection rates or health guidance, and is more focused on bringing elementary pupils back to campus than middle and high schoolers.
Some, like Raj Singh of Cupertino, have simply given up on the public schools. He put his son, a second grader, in private school at the beginning of the year, frustrated with the gap between what the district was offering in person — just a few hours a day and a couple days a week starting next month — compared to private schools.
“It’s a bit of a disgrace what the school boards are doing to the kids,” Singh said.
Megan Bacigalupi, a parent organizer with Oakland Unified School District Parents for Transparency and Safe Reopening, said last weekend her district was planning an elementary schedule with in-person instruction two afternoons a week, two and a half hours each day for a total of five hours a week. Middle and high school grades weren’t included.
“A school that is open for students five hours a week is not an open school,” the group said in a statement. “We will continue to advocate for a full-time, five days a week return for all OUSD students this spring and in the fall.”
In nearby Albany, where parents had complained the school district was offering one of the leanest in-person schedules in the region, parents like Jolanka Nickerman were relieved to hear that teachers had agreed with the district to open elementary schools Monday for five mostly full days.
“This should have happened months ago, but regardless, I am just so excited it is happening now,” Nickerman said. But she added the plan for middle and high schoolers still falls short. “We are not done fighting… We are also going to make sure all grades and schools open 100% full time in the fall.”
In the Los Gatos-Saratoga high school district, Kate Gude, whose daughter is a freshman, was dismayed that the reopening plan that began this week included just one hour a week on campus, expanding to just two days April 12.
“It’s not meeting the need, it’s slow and frustrating,” Gude said. “If they don’t figure it out in the spring, they’re not going to be back full time in the fall.”
In Gilroy, Rodriguez remains “very concerned about the fall.”
The school board was to hold a special meeting Thursday evening to go over four reopening plans for middle and high schools with increasing amounts of time offered in a hybrid, in-person model. All students would engage in online remote learning on Mondays, spokeswoman Melanie Corona said.
“We have not made a decision about the fall,” Corona said, “as we are awaiting further direction from the state.”