Many Sequoia Union High School District teachers are raising concerns about reopening school campuses this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Edith Salvatore, president of the Sequoia District Teachers Association.
The district, which includes Woodside and Menlo-Atherton high schools and TIDE Academy, announced June 25 that students will return to school in the fall semester on a split schedule — half online, half on-campus.
But Salvatore said that many teachers remain skeptical of teaching on campus, with concerns ranging from COVID-19 health risks to diminished quality of education for students, among other misgivings.
"The teachers are not a monolith," Salvatore said. "But a good number have been reaching out and expressed worry."
In a survey conducted by the Sequoia District Teachers Association between June 23 and 26, approximately 46% of teachers said "no" when asked whether they would be comfortable returning to campus.
Meanwhile, 16% responded "yes" to the query, and the remaining 37% chose to fill out a written form explaining what criteria they would need in order to feel comfortable. Most listed a desire for extra safety precautions to prevent spread of the virus, such as face shields and daily sanitization of classrooms.
According to a June 25 letter from Sequoia Union High School District Superintendent Mary Streshly, when students return in the fall they will rotate between online and on-campus learning (known as a "hybrid" model), with about half of the student body on campus at a time. Schools will survey students with health questionnaires and do temperature checks upon students' arrival on campus.
Salvatore said that teachers would have to prepare lessons for both online and in-person learning, although they would only see each individual student once per week.
Nancy Day, a science teacher at Menlo-Atherton High School, is among the teachers concerned about on-campus learning. "Being a science teacher I keep looking at the science and the data, and I keep seeing these surges," she said. "And I think it's a little irresponsible to be putting kids together in a room."
Day also said she has concerns about the logistics of teaching in-person classes under restrictive safety measures to prevent spreading the virus.
"Following the CDC guidelines, we can't share equipment. We can't do labs. We won't be able to use any equipment — that's the whole reason to come to a science class," she said. "The class is not going to look at all the way it used to look."
Caren McDonald, who teaches English at the district's East Palo Alto Academy, said she opposes returning to campus in the fall because of COVID-19 health risks.
"I love my students and I love my school," she said. "But I think it's just too unsafe at this time."
Salvatore said that while the district has released general plans for the hybrid model in the fall, details about specific safety measures in the classroom haven't been released.
For now, Streshly's letter said that the hybrid plan only applies to the fall semester, and that it could change depending on local health orders.
"While we are looking forward to seeing our students on campus in the fall, it is important to remember that our current plans may change in the event our county issues new health directives, as SUHSD is required to adhere to updated orders," she said. "We understand that last minute changes in plans can cause upset and other difficulties, and we commit to sending out a community update by August 1, 2020 to confirm our targeted schedule of August 17 for starting school."