The latest snarl in negotiations to reopen California schools comes as teachers call for priority in the vaccination line, but Gov. Gavin Newsom says there aren’t enough doses for school staff until summer.
“If everybody has to be vaccinated, we might as well just tell people the truth: There will be no in-person instruction in the state of California,” Newsom said in a conversation with the executive director of the Association of California School Administrators. “Don’t mislead people.”
His spurning of teacher demands arrives as students approach the one-year mark of learning from home, and as state officials, district leaders, educators and parents remain at an impasse over how to reopen classrooms during the pandemic.
The discussion with Newsom was first live streamed Thursday but was soon removed, according to Politico, which first reported the governor’s remarks. The video appeared on the group’s YouTube again on Friday.
The powerful California Teachers Association has resisted returning to classrooms. The group sent a letter to Newsom on Wednesday calling for school staff to get the vaccine before inviting students back.
“I think we can reopen schools safely without every single person in the state of California being vaccinated,” the governor responded in the video. But he added that if vaccination is “the absolute” for educators and their unions to return, “maybe we should be having a different conversation with people.
“If we want to find reasons not to open, we’ll find plenty of reasons,” Newsom said.
The governor unveiled a $2 billion plan to bring the state’s youngest students back to classrooms by mid-February, but the proposal appears to have fizzled in the state Legislature, which had to approve the funding.
Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence — including a new report by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — shows few outbreaks linked to schools where safety measures such as mask-wearing are enforced.
“This is now a matter of political will,” said Megan Bacigalupi, an Oakland mom of two who is also with Open Schools CA, a new and growing group of parents across the state calling for a plan to reopen schools as soon as possible.
“You can't say ‘follow the science and listen to Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and listen to the CDC’ when Dr. Fauci and the CDC are saying schools can be open safely” but are closed in California, Bacigalupi said. “You can't then have one slight carve out for teachers’ unions.”
She said her second grader suffers from dyslexia and has become completely disengaged from his Zoom classes. “The struggle has actually been getting markedly worse as this has kept going on,” she said.
CTA President E. Toby Boyd said the CDC report did not change union members’ minds about returning to classrooms before they feel safe.
“We understand that the spread is not as rapid” in classrooms, he said. “However, we need to make sure we have all the other items in place in order to mitigate the spread of the virus in the classroom, because it does occur.”
Boyd said educators also want clearer direction from the state on reopening timelines and guidelines. He believes schools in counties where the virus is considered widespread should not reopen.
“Yes, the numbers are going down and yes, the ICU beds are opening up,” he said. “That's wonderful news, but we can't just jump the gun.”
California lifted its stay-at-home order for all of California on Monday.
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