Teachers at a prestigious school district in San Jose, California that encompasses much of Silicon Valley, including Cupertino and Sunnyvale, are pushing for more of what they call “distance learning” when schools reopen in the fall, and cites the stringent local requirements placed on individual schools to fight the spread of COVID-19 as the reason why.
In a letter written to the Fremont Union High School District board that was then circulated throughout the district, teachers warn against reopening schools for in-person learning with severe changes to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as ordered by the County of Santa Clara.
Santa Clara will require all schools in the county to require students to wear masks throughout the day, including while waiting for and riding on school buses, when they arrive or leave school, and any time they are outside classrooms.
Students must also be screened for COVID-19 symptoms every day by parents or teachers, as is feasible.
If a student has a symptom of COVID-19, they must immediately be tested for the virus. If they test negative, they must quarantine for 72 hours before returning to school.
If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they must be quarantined for 14 days, as must all fellow students and faculty who were in routine close physical contact with the ill student.
Additionally, elementary school students will be required to remain in “stable cohorts” of 25 students or less throughout their time in schools.
If one student in a “stable cohort” tests positive for COVID-19, the remaining 24 students and the teacher will be required to seek immediate testing and self quarantine for 14 days regardless of the result.
High school and middle school students are identified as harder to isolate, but it is believed that the students will be more willing to wear masks. Accordingly, social distancing will be observed by moving the students further apart, and more stringent mask use will be required.
Students of all age groups are strictly advised against sharing school supplies or closely congregating with fellow students, with the exception of elementary school “stable cohorts.”
Most sports have been cancelled to prevent COVID-19, as they require students to break social distancing guidelines.
Band, choir, and cheerleading have all been banned to prevent COVID-19, as they are “aerosol generating activities.”
Additionally, while it remains unclear who is responsible, all surfaces in every school must be thoroughly cleaned daily.
All of this led teachers to write a letter to the school board, which was then sent to the rest of the board’s teachers, urging the administration to reconsider the county’s directive to “offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible.”
The teachers write that “Recently, the FUHSD community received a letter from the district emphasizing the state’s language that ‘schools should offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible’ this coming fall,” and they “want to express deep concerns regarding offering in-person instruction.”
The letter goes on to question how students will be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms, who will be responsible for ensuring mask compliance, cleaning classrooms, monitoring student hand washing, and preventing students from sharing supplies.
Teachers are also concerned about how social distancing can be successfully observed in classrooms, as most are not designed to accommodate the six feet of space between desks now required by Santa Clara.
Additionally, teachers believe the county’s guidelines will psychologically harm students and prevent education. Fears of aerosol spray from speaking will likely prohibit all forms of classroom discussion and interacting, overturning decades of education research showing their benefit.
The letter remains accepting of the need for such radical reforms of the education system to accommodate COVID-19, but suggests that they cannot be achieved by the upcoming semester, and instead suggests “investing in a robust remote learning experience” to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Despite its massive changes to schools, Santa Clara admits at the beginning of its guidelines that children are extremely unlikely to contract coronavirus.
In those few cases of children contracting coronavirus, the county notes, they were not the first person in their household to contract the virus, indicating the virus is more likely to spread from adults to children rather than between children or from children to adults.