On Monday, 39 teachers unions in Alameda and Contra Costa counties released a declaration calling for strong safety measures and increased educational resources as schools reopen in the fall.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase in the Bay Area, many districts, including Berkeley Unified School District, are considering beginning the school year with distance learning rather than returning to in-person instruction. The declaration, signed by union leaders representing more than 21,000 educators, stresses the importance of collaboration between unions and school districts as planning continues for the upcoming semester.
“What school board members or district managers deem as essential is not necessarily the priority of the professionals who are in the classroom everyday working with students,” said Brenda Leal, president of the Martinez Education Association, in a press release from the Alameda and Contra Costa counties teachers unions.
In addition to calling for additional safety planning and binding agreements between districts and unions, the declaration states that schools will need further resources to address the needs of students during the COVID-19 pandemic, including smaller class sizes and more nurses and counselors.
According to Alameda County Office of Education spokesperson Michelle Smith McDonald, each district in the county must decide for itself how to conduct school reopenings based on ongoing guidance from the California Department of Public Health, the California Department of Education and the Alameda County Public Health Department, as well as conversations with labor partners.
Berkeley Unified School District has been meeting with the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, multiple days every week for the past month, said district spokesperson Trish McDermott in an email.
“While there are significant barriers to opening our school campuses, and school campuses across the country, we continue to work together with our bargaining partners toward that goal,” McDermott said in the email.
In order for school reopenings to be possible, the larger community needs to reduce community spread and increase testing, said BFT President Matt Meyer in an email. He also stated that BFT agrees with the unions’ declaration and has released its own resolution calling for schools to continue distance learning until in-person learning can be conducted more safely.
The BFT resolution calls for schools not to resume in-person instruction until the Alameda County shelter-in-place order is lifted, COVID-19 cases have been decreasing for at least two weeks and widespread testing is available to students, families and staff.
Like the declaration from Alameda and Contra Costa counties teachers unions, BFT’s resolution states that there are insufficient resources from the federal and state governments to facilitate school reopenings.
“The increasing number of COVID cases is unacceptable. We must put the safety of our students and staff front and center,” said Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association, in the unions’ press release. “We want to provide meaningful and sustainable instruction for our students based on lessons learned from this past spring.”