[NOTE: this is a copy of the email that I sent in response to union members this week who were trying to derail the board vote on reopening the schools.]
Thank you so much for contacting me with your thoughts about reopening schools. I have carefully read your opinion and concerns.
Questions on the specifics of any reopening plan that may be approved by the board will be answered by District administrators. If a plan to reopen is adopted by the board, administrators will be tasked with implementing the CVUSD safety plan already approved by the county and state health departments and with resolving concerns.
The following are my thoughts so far regarding the vote to reopen schools. I am still listening.
1. STUDENTS FIRST
When it comes to a decision on reopening the schools, my primary consideration is the students and their needs. To help you understand what parents (the students’ primary advocates) who want to reopen the schools are saying, I am including excerpts from emails that I have received (with all identifiers removed). For many, this is an emergency. The children are suffering and families are struggling.
2. DISTRICT SURVEY RESULTS
The District survey to parents in mid-May revealed that 78% of parents wanted their kids back on campus full time this fall. The District resurveyed parents a couple of weeks ago and 80% indicated that they want their kids back on campus for instruction.
Parents are well-aware of the risks associated with COVID-19 and yet the overwhelming majority continue to want their children back on campus for school. The emails and conversations I have had with parents have helped me better understand the negative impact school closures are having on many families and why the vast majority want us to reopen the schools.
3. TEACHERS ARE NOT REQUIRED TO GO BACK TO IN-PERSON INSTRUCTION
Just as a clarification, my understanding is that teachers, staff members and students that do not feel safe returning to campus will not be required to return. The Ventura County Health Director (Dr. Levin) noted in an email sent to the superintendent (and shared with the board) that the district should not require teachers to return to campus. It is expected that teachers and students with health concerns will continue with online instruction.
Reopening the schools can be a win-win with those preferring in-person and those preferring online instruction each being able to choose what they prefer. Online is the only option right now for most students and teachers.
4. DECLINING ENROLLMENT
We have lost at least 700 students since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. That is the size of two elementary schools. The longer we delay reopening, the more likely parents with concerns about online learning will find other educational options outside the district. Next year, the impact of losing students will be felt in our budget. Closing schools and laying off staff is a possibility if large numbers of students do not return to CVUSD.
5. THE VENTURA COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND THE CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH HAS DEEMED IT SAFE FOR CVUSD TO OPEN BY APPROVING OUR REOPENING PLAN
Please see link below for California Department of Public Health (CDPH) requirements to safely reopen schools. CVUSD must meet all safety requirements. Dr. Levin and the CDPH reviewed our reopening plan before granting us approval.
6. SOME TOPICS OF PARENT CONCERN AND SAMPLES OF EMAILS I HAVE RECEIVED THAT SUPPORT REOPENING SCHOOLS:
CONCERN – Remote learning not working at all. Parent email receive 10/20:
My name is…and my husband and I have two children at… in 1st and 4th grade. We also have two little ones at home. We spend many hours helping the children through their school work but we noticed a strong decline in grades (4th grader) and much difficulty to concentrate for the 1st grader. All of this despite the fact that we have the luxury to give both children their own rooms to work in.
The remote learning is not working for our family at all and we deeply hope that you can vote to reopen the schools. We are originally from… and over their the schools have reopened in May already despite the high number of cases. Some family members over there are teachers and they say that while it is difficult the alternative is not ideal either.
CONCERN – Students with disabilities. Parent email received on 9/19:
I would like to provide my perspective as the parent of an autistic child and hopefully be able to add to the discussions on the in-person small cohort services…My daughter is 10 years old and attends (school) special education instruction. She loves going to school and she loves her friends and teachers. As she is the only child, school is where she has her social interactions with her peers. While she has adapted as best she can to remote instruction, many a times I have watched her look through photos on my phone – photos I took of her participating in an inclusive play at school or year end picnics at school and crying silently. I cannot begin to even comprehend the social emotional damage that has been done for a child that has no other avenues for much desired peer interactions other than being in school. As with most children on the spectrum, she does not have friends outside of school, our neighborhood kids are sadly not interested in befriending a kid that is different than them. And so I urge and plead with you – please let the kids back in school, even if it is just for a few hours every day so that they do not regress even more in their isolated world.
CONCERN – Parents of young children had to quit their jobs to help their children with online learning, social emotional issues, virtual learning issues. Parent email received on 10/19:
SURVEY RESULTS FROM LOCAL PARENT GROUP (40 families participated)
Example of qualitative data: Teachers have been amazing. However, online learning does not replace in-person instruction. I think with so many broadband/technical glitches it is taxing on a student to stay engaged and focused when they are attending virtual school by themselves. I think it's sad that the impact of income inequality will be felt more so on an emotional and educational level where parents of limited means cannot supplement their child's experience with tutors or extracurricular activities to make up for the true lack of socialization. I also don't understand why you can have a field of kids engaged in distanced youth sports where parents sign waivers but parents who have elected the blended model can't sign waivers to acknowledge the risk with their kids returning to campus. Our well-reputed pediatrician has stated this is the mildest disease he has seen in children in all his years of being a doctor. If we do not get the kids back to campus soon I worry about the increase in unemployment/homelessness that could take place.
Example of qualitative data: There have been more tears than normal. This is not how school and the learning experience is supposed to be. The kids deserve better and need to return to school.
Results of this portion of the survey include 24 families with younger school-age children. The most concerning finding of this survey for me is that 37.5% (1/3) of the 24 respondents in the group said that remote learning prevented them from being employed.
CONCERN – Working parents struggling with helping children and working. Parent email received on 8/3:
Parents who work full time, are having a hard enough time dealing with this shift to online learning as it is, and now to expect that they are able to be there with their child, who is too young to sit at a computer and do school work alone, all while trying to work, with a time frame they did not choose, is just not okay.
CONCERN – Remote learning not working for working families, weeping child, lack of peer interaction. Parent email received on 9/8:
I am an essential worker and have been working since this all started. I come in contact with more people in an enclosed space during my work hours than any employee working at the district comes in contact with in a week. There can’t be any contact tracing and no one gets their temperature taken. I even worked the first few months when masks were not mandated. Not one person who I work with has tested positive for Covid-19. Not one. For these teachers to say they are not safe is putting their needs in front of 18000 students. The fallout from not getting these elementary aged kids on campus is going to be lifelong. They will lose the love of learning, the ability to learn from non verbal communication, connecting and communicating with peers, and the learning loss will be detrimental.
I can only speak to elementary school because I only have a 1st grader in the district but remote learning is not working and these kids need to be IN SCHOOL ... My first grader has cried at some point over her 2 hrs and 10 minutes almost every day. She isn't sleeping and is so weepy all the time. She is 7 year old. This is terrible. Following are just a few examples of what has happened in the last week alone.
- The teacher goes too fast and my daughter can't tell her to slow down because she is muted or she has to go to the bathroom and the teacher doesn’t see her hand raise signal. I spoke to the teacher about it and her response was she has notes all over her computer to slow down.
- There is NO way for these children to communicate peer to peer. When the teacher is teaching she has everyone muted and they have to push a button to speak and then the teacher calls on them and then they get muted again.
- Today her Zoom dropped at 2:40pm and she was not able to get back on so she had to interrupt my husband who was teaching his Graduate class to MBA students…. I was at work so she had no choice but to interrupt him. They were not able to get back on so she missed 20 minutes of instruction. Today his students heard my daughter tell the teacher many times to slow down. There response, does she do that all day long?
- Everyday the teacher goes around and asks the kids a scale of 1-5 about how they feel. If you think this is a reliable way of gaging children's social emotional well being we are in trouble. Do you think my newly 7 year old is aware why she is so weepy, why she cant sleep, or that she is missing out on a real education? She is a happy kid and really likes to please others so she is going to say she is happy.
- Her ability to connect is with her cohort only. Wednesdays don't help because she can't even see who else is on screen and follow what the teacher is doing. This actually makes it worse from what I see I'm hearing from other parents. It adds to the frustrations.
I know that the teachers are working hard and I am not diminishing that in any way but if my well adjusted, happy kid, who is fortunate enough to have 2 involved parents is struggling, I can only imagine what is happening to other children in our district that don't have the resources that my daughter has. We as parents have the right to know the truth even if it exposes the union.
CONCERN – Social interaction needed. Parent email received on 9/8:
My son…has had a 504 plan since…. He has ADD. Virtual learning has been horrible for this kid. Last year, I realize the district had to make due on the fly. The Do No Harm grading policy did more harm than good for a child like mine. He’s a very social kid. He needs interaction. Here we are in the 3rd week of his…year and he’s already begging to be back in the classroom and he’s shutting down…
CONCERN – Lack of connection, chrome books not adequate. Parent email received on 10/19:
My youngest is in Kindergarten and his writing is atrocious. School is not something he looks forward to but he loves people and Zoom isn’t enough for him to feel like he is connecting with his teacher and classmates. My 4th grader “hates” school and I can understand when she isn’t in a classroom and schoolwork takes longer when you are having to type everything out on a computer and into textboxes on google slides as opposed to writing on paper and handing it in to your teacher. I also feel for our teacher who is also typing all of her comments and feedback on the computer. I can’t even imagine how much extra time is spent on grading assignments now while trying to help a student understand virtually what needs to be improved on specifically. For my middle schooler, I understood from one of his teachers that the class is behind where they should be because it is taking that much longer to teach things virtually.
Lastly, the chrome books are not conducive to learning. My household experienced glitches despite our wifi signal being strong. When I switched out the chrome books with laptops the zoom lapses went away. It was also difficult for my daughter to complete online assignments given the size of the screen. My household is fortunate that we were able to purchase computers to address this but I feel terrible for the kids who come from families who don’t have the means to do this. How can they possibly remain engaged in school or even learn as well virtually?
CONCERN – Depression, migraines. Parent email received 10/8/20
I am writing you to express how “socially distanced learning” is going for my son, a [high school student]... As a family, we were extremely disappointed to learn that students would not be returning to campus… last August. We did, however, have a glimmer of hope that things would get better for my son with the blended learning module and were happy that he would be meeting in person with each of his teachers/classes twice a week as a part of cohort A. We obviously had great concerns when it went to complete online because of how the last quarter of last school year was handled. Unfortunately, the instruction he is receiving for his 3 classes this quarter is not much better! Not to mention the psychological and physical toll this school format is having on him.
My son is normally a B average student and is now struggling to get C’s due to the insufficient teaching happening. He is suffering from severe migraines from having to look at his computer screen for so long. I also had to seek the help of a psychiatrist for is inability to focus on lackluster 75 minute periods where very little instruction is going on. He has never had attention issues in his life and is now having to take ADHD medication just to get through his “classes”. He is also being seen for severe depression that has occurred because of the isolation and toll on his self esteem this type of “schooling” is having. This depression has led to him really not wanting to leave his room at all causing complete inactivity and weight gain.
CONCERN – Teen tech addiction, anxiety, social isolation. Parent email received 10/8/20
I have been very supportive of the moves at my children’s school…. I have seen the wisdom of the schedule and the work they are doing to mitigate the effects of this pandemic. They and you, have served my children with creative leadership. For that I am very grateful. We have been very patient waiting with high hopes that the school would allow on-campus instruction (albeit with modifications) the moment they were able. Now it seems that there may be some feet dragging with bringing my children back to school. PLEASE do not delay. This distance learning is having a devastating effect on the mental health and development of my children.
It is feeding a tech addiction, as the only way they can socialize is on their phones and screens AND I have seen, in real time, the exacerbation of the anxiety epidemic in my own home, with my OWN children. I do not fear the lasting effects of covid nearly as much as I fear the effects of Anxiety and social isolation on my growing teens. This is a real epidemic for this age. Levels of Anxiety and depression have been on the rise among young people for several years. I have been studying this and seeing it in my own work… - read “The Coddling of the American Mind” (Haidt) and “iGen" (Twenge). Now I am seeing it FIRST HAND in my own home. These kids NEED to have social outlets that DO NOT involve screens. They need to be encouraged to live life without CONSTANT fear. They need to have opportunities to grow outside their home circles. This is critical for their emotional and social well being. With prolonged lockdowns, social isolation, and NONSTOP fear mongering, we are adding fuel to the social fire that predated Covid. It’s impacts will far outlast this single epidemic.
CONCERN – Crying, depression, irritable, migraines, declining grades, salvage senior year. Parent email received on 10/7/20
My husband went thru CVUSD many years ago, our 2 older kids got a great education thru this district and we currently have 2 students enrolled at…. My…is an AP/Honors student and has worked very hard to maintain high grades,…. She has always been extremely social, active, kind, empathetic and highly motivated. Now she cries frequently, seems depressed, is unmotivated, unbelievably tired and irritable. Some of this is from quarantine but, most of it started when she realized “no Senior year!” So, yes, I believe our superintendent and school board did this to her and so very many of her friends! You have the ability and power to salvage their Senior year but, it seems, you are choosing not to. I really don’t understand why? I would think if you took your time to be on a school board kids would come first, this does not seem the case when watching the school board meetings and the decisions you have made! My son is a sophomore and had his best academic year since elementary in 9th grade, we were very happy in class at…. Now, his grades are declining, he is getting frequent migraines (which he has never had before), he’s becoming unmotivated and hates online school. My kids want to return to school. It should be up to each individual whether they want to return to campus or stay online!
7. ARTICLES ON THE IMPORTANCE OF REOPENING SCHOOLS:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics: COVID-19 Transmission and Children: The Child Is Not to Blame (August 2020)
Select quote from study:
These data all suggest that children are not significant drivers of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is unclear why documented SARS-CoV-2 transmission from children to other children or adults is so infrequent.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall (7/23/20)
Additionally, extended closures can be harmful to children’s mental health and can increase the likelihood that children engage in unhealthy behaviors. An environment where students feel safe and connected, such as a school, is associated with lower levels of depression, thoughts about suicide, social anxiety, and sexual activity, as well as higher levels of self-esteem and more adaptive use of free time , A longitudinal study of 476 adolescents over 3 years starting in the 6th grade found school connectedness to be especially protective for those who had lower connectedness in other areas of their lives, such as home, and to reduce their likelihood of substance use.
Further, a review of studies conducted on pandemics found a strong association between length of quarantine and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms, avoidance behavior, and anger. Another review published this year found that post-traumatic stress scores of children and parents in quarantine were four times higher than those not quarantined.,
- The American Academy of Pediatrics Article: School is the essential business of childhood. California Pediatricians urge policy-makers to prioritize reopening in-person elementary schools as the most important act we can take to protect the health, safety, and social-emotional well-being of California’s children (9/16/20)
In-person schools provide more than just academics. In addition to reading, writing and math, students learn social and emotional skills, get exercise, and have access to mental health support and other services that cannot be provided with online learning. For many children, in-person schools are safe places to be while parents or guardians are working. For many families, in-person schools are where kids get healthy meals, access to the internet and other vital services. Children with disabilities and other special needs receive critically important assessments, services and support for their education that may be difficult or impossible to access remotely.
- Study: Less than 1 percent of teachers, students infected since schools reopened (9/23/20)
A new study has found minimal evidence that the novel coronavirus is transferring inside K-12 school buildings despite reports of students and faculty across the country contracting the disease.
Brown University researchers collaborated with school administrators and released data Wednesday from a new National COVID-19 School Response Data Dashboard.
COVID-19 cases recorded in the dashboard show a relatively small degree of spread among staff and students. The study looked at data collected from more than 550 schools across 46 states over a two-week period starting Aug. 31, with more than 300 schools maintaining some level of in-person classes.
- McKinsey & Company: COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime (6/1/20)
Likely effects on low-income, black, and Hispanic students
Learning loss will probably be greatest among low-income, black, and Hispanic students. Lower income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning or to a conducive learning environment, such as a quiet space with minimal distractions, devices they do not need to share, high-speed internet, and parental academic supervision.12 Data from Curriculum Associates, creators of the i-Ready digital-instruction and-assessment software, suggest that only 60 percent of low-income students are regularly logging into online instruction; 90 percent of high-income students do. Engagement rates are also lagging behind in schools serving predominantly black and Hispanic students; just 60 to 70 percent are logging in regularly (Exhibit 3).13
8. IMPORTANT VIDEOS ON REOPENING SCHOOLS:
The following videos have helped me understand what it might look like to reopen our schools. I welcome innovative ideas. Kids are not super spreaders of COVID-19. Please watch with an open mind.
- Video: Reopening Schools in Norway (6/25/20)
- Video: Poway Unified Pilot Program: Secondary Concurrent Teaching Model (10/14/20)
I believe that reopening schools for in-person instruction is an emergency for many students. Based on the approval by the state and county, I believe it is safe for students to return. I hope that we can all come together to adopt and implement a plan to reopen that will work well for as many students and teachers as possible. I also support continuing to offer online learning options and our homeschool option. Once again, I am still listening and want your concerns to be resolved as effectively as possible.
Thank you again for contacting me.
The opinions expressed in this email are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of CVUSD or the majority of the school board.