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East Bay Teachers Demand Safety Plans Before Returning To Classrooms

PLEASANT HILL (KPIX 5) -- The state's quick switch to remote education during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic was considered a failure by many, leaving a large percentage of parents pushing to go back to in-class instruction for next year.

But as some school districts developed plans for partial return to the classroom -- even as COVID-19 cases rose alarmingly in the state -- teachers began speaking out about their health concerns.

"After the skyrocketing started, I suddenly noticed that people were criticizing teachers and calling them selfish for caring about their own health and the health of the students," said Shauna Hawes, technology teacher at Valley View Middle School in Pleasant Hill.

Hawes, Dylan Bland and Linda Wilhelm all teach in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District and they all hold the same view being expressed by teachers' unions across the Bay Area.

"It feels like under any reopening plan with the number of contacts required in an enclosed space, such as classroom learning, it's just simply irresponsible right now," said Bland.

"I have over 200 kids on my roster, twice a week.  That means I have 400 contacts per week," said Wilhelm.

And add in the number of contacts those kids have each day and she figures her weekly contact rate is more like 700.

"I'm not OK with that," she said.

The health concerns about being around hundreds of students each day seem obvious but infectious disease expert Dr. Harvey Fineberg believes it can be made safer.

"Physical distancing in schools, personal protection including masks on children old enough to wear masks safely, protecting our teachers with masks and face shields make good sense in helping to keep our schools a safer environment to prevent the spread of COVID," he said.

But the teachers say it is unrealistic to think kids will follow those protocols.

"What I'm really afraid's about kids being real kids. And they're not going to want to social distance," said Hawes. "They've been missing their peers. They're not going to want to just sit in one space and do their assignment with no interactions."

The teachers say plans to have students come to school on alternating days will pose huge academic problems, as well, and they are recommending remote learning for this upcoming semester.  But it is the health danger that is uniting them. They say as long as the state considers large gatherings of people to be dangerous…the same should hold true on the school grounds.

Mt. Diablo Unified says it hasn't made any final decisions yet, but the draft plan they're calling the "Roadmap to Reopening" does include a hybrid system of partial in-class instruction.


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