Coronavirus, Education, Original Report, Sherrie Peif

Teachers demand 14 days of no new COVID cases before going back to work; plan ‘day of action’ Monday

DENVER — As Colorado school districts continue to announce their plans for opening in the fall, the leader of the Colorado Education Association (CEA) has said it’s possible teachers across the state will strike, and at least one Facebook group has grown legs and plans a large demonstration next week reinforcing that threat to not to show up on the first day of work.

According to the Colorado Sun, CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a news conference that union members want more involvement in school openings and decisions around mask requirements, class sizes and other changes to how students are taught, designed to keep them safe.

“The union is also calling for individual school districts to establish their own protocols, publicly release the data used in re-opening decisions and provide all students with access to remote learning tools such as computers and WiFi,” the Sun reported.

Several Facebook groups have launched for teachers to air their concerns about returning to work in as soon as three weeks in some areas of the state. Concerns range from how to enforce masks and how much cleaning they will be required to do to substitutes and life insurance.

“From what I’ve learned on the CDC website, the only kids that will be given a valid (mask) exemption are those that are having trouble breathing,” one teacher posted. “… If I were in that situation and someone “has trouble breathing” and so has a pass on the mask, I’m with (name protected), in the corner, back of the room!!” (Complete Colorado will not identify any of the people posting in the private groups.)

One of the Facebook groups, Colorado Schools for Safe Openings — 14 Days No New Cases, started in support of a growing national movement to not open schools until there are 14 consecutive days of no new COVID-19 cases in the county affiliated with the school district planning to open.

That outcome is not likely occur anytime in the near future, however, as Colorado has not gone one day without a single case since the state began reporting on March 1. Some areas of the state may be COVID-free, but they are very few and are usually very small, rural communities, such as Briggsdale, where that district announced earlier this week it would resume classes in a near-normal situation. Highland Re-9 School District in Ault (Weld County), about 1,000 students K-12, will also open on schedule in August, with masks optional. Complete Colorado has a call into the district’s superintendent for more information.

None of the state’s 15 largest school districts are in counties where no new cases have been reported for even one day since March 1.

According to information obtained by Complete Colorado, the group, which has more than 7,500 members, has a list of demands they want met before they will return to work. That list is outlined in nine different letter templates that organizers say can be personalized, but ask that the basic demand of 14 days with no new cases not be removed.

One of the leaders of the national 14-day demand explained his reasoning, adding his goal is to eliminate the virus altogether.

There is no magic number of masks or tests or plexiglass barriers that our districts and states could acquire that would make our return safe when the U.S. is still reporting tens of thousands of new cases every day,” Harley Litzelman, a high school history teacher and union organizer in Oakland, CA, wrote in a blog. “We must end the pandemic itself, and unions and community organizations need to prioritize demands that will accomplish that goal.”

Other demands include:

  • Mass testing.
  • Contact tracing.
  • Strict suspension of nonessential business and travel activity.
  • Basic income stimulus payments.
  • Rent and mortgage cancellation.
  • Eviction prevention.
  • Single-payer health care.
  • Personal computers and high-speed internet access for all students to learn remotely.

The templates include variations for teachers and community members to address concerns to lawmakers, union leaders, district leadership and parents, among others.

“While there’s nothing I want more than to see my students in-person again, it is far too dangerous for your child, your family, and my colleagues to resume in-person instruction this fall,” the form letters read. “States and school districts are unveiling reckless, half-baked school reopening plans that put you, your child, and my colleagues in extreme danger.”

Colorado Schools for Safe Openings — 14 Days No New Cases has organized a statewide rally that includes both virtual and in person activities that include:

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  • Changing Facebook profiles to a Refuse to Return logo, which is not scheduled to be released to the group until Sunday.
  • Email campaign to Gov. Jared Polis, the Colorado Department of Education, State Board of Education, superintendents, local boards of education and mayors using the prescribed templates, information from a list of prepared articles.
  • Phone calls to the offices of the same place the emails are sent.
  • Phone calls to media for coverage.
  • Car caravan with its own very specific set of instructions.
    • A caravan and “Wave for our Lives” in the Jefferson County School District is planned from 4-6 p.m. along Wadsworth Blvd. from Coal Mine to 104 avenues.
  • Art “Installation.”
    • “Create a form of art that embodies what the effects are in returning to school with less than 14 Days of No New Cases. Possible ideas could include mock cemeteries, COVID-19 classes, etc. Create your ideas and place them on school lawns, admin buildings, at the capital (sic) before anyone arrives that morning. Coordinate with others for a bigger impact!”

According to the post, this “day of action” will take place July 27. Organizers are calling for everyone to donate a several hours of their time on that date.

“For the biggest impact, there is strength in numbers,” the post reads. “We need everyone to commit to doing ALL of these bullet points. This will be the difference between a school district superintendent getting 50 voicemails, or 1,000 voicemails – 100 emails, or 5,000 emails. The idea is to OVERWHELM them with our voice! They will have to listen, and they will have to respond! POWER. IN. NUMBERS”

There is also a push for teachers to withdraw their own children from brick and mortar schools and enroll them in their districts’ online options, saying it drops the number of students in seats but maintains the districts’ funding levels and preserves staff head count. But supporters of this idea are also pushing for more.

“Write the decision makers at the big local employers in your area, the politicians, the city and county and demand that employers find at home employment opportunities for employees that have kids or who have at risk family members,” one poster said. “This idea that only governments and taxpayers are obligated to bear the burden of this pandemic is crap. Business need to make sacrifices for the country too. … Our teachers, kids, and families shouldn’t be treated like lab rats or sacrifices for the economy. Life is so much more important than profit and this country’s leaders and business icons have forgotten this.”

Although when to open and how to open remains up to the individual school districts with guidance from local health departments, ultimately whether there will be teachers in most of Colorado’s largest districts, remains to be seen.

Baca-Oehlert said in her news conference that a survey of nearly 10,000 union members resulted in nearly 80 percent of teachers willing to support colleagues who refuse to return to work by sitting out as well.

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