Parents, Teachers Worry About a Rushed Return to Classrooms

Two of Gloria Salazar’s three children have struggled with distance learning.

“My youngest doesn’t get used to the classes on computer. She gets distracted too much,” the Pacoima resident said in describing her eight-year-old daughter who attends G3, part of the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center cluster of school campuses.

Her oldest, a ninth grade student at Vaughn International Studies Academy (V.I.S.A.), has also had problems.

“He misses the camaraderie in school and his grades have gone down some,” Salazar said.

She would like schools to reopen, maybe just for those students who have had trouble with distance learning — perhaps splitting them in small groups during morning and afternoon sessions. But at the same time, Salazar still worries about the pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is also pushing to reopen California elementary schools, as early as February. To do so, he announced a $2 billion incentive in his mid-year budget that would go to school districts that resume classroom instruction, focused on younger children from kindergarten through second grade. While not completely immune to the virus, research suggests they are are less likely to become infected with COVID-19.

Newsom’s proposal also calls for improved testing at schools and millions of free PPE for teachers, who are not convinced this is the best time to reopen classrooms while the pandemic still rages across the state, and in particular in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner announced recently that it would be mandatory for all LAUSD students to get vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to returning to in-person learning.

No vaccine has yet been approved for those ages 16 and below. Studies are currently being conducted to see if the vaccines approved for adults are effective and safe for children as well; results are still months away.

Teacher Cautions Against “Rushed” Reopening

“I feel if we are ready with the numbers, meaning the COVID-19 numbers are down, and if the schools are ready in a safe environment, where if somebody comes out positive, they have a plan to deal with that, yes,” says Norma, a second grade teacher at a Local District Northeast School.

“However, when we found out that the cases had gone up, and the ICU units are at capacity, we’re not ready then.”

Norma — who asked that we do not use her last name because she’s not authorized to speak on behalf of the school — believes children need to socialize. She sees it daily during break time for her students.

“They (the children) want to talk to each other. They want to interact,” she said.

She also admits distance learning doesn’t work for all students and is also much harder for teachers. For instance, she says when she assigns math and other assignments, “when we finish our class and I do the grading, I still have to go back and check everything online, and that takes a lot of time,” she said. “Assigning tests, answering parents’ questions online takes a lot of time.”

Those questions can come at almost any time, day or night.

Just recently Norma gave an assignment on a Tuesday that was due by Saturday. At 8:30 p.m. on Friday night, the parent of one of her students was texting her asking for help to complete the work. So she had to help.

“If we were in class, we would all be doing a math test together,” Norma said. “Parents need a lot of help. If [parents] are calling me at 8:30 p.m. it is because they care about their child.” And she says she’s always willing to answer those calls.

But this teacher does not feel the conditions are right yet to return to the classrooms.

“If we have so many high numbers, if our families are getting infected, we’re not ready,” Norma said. “I don’t think anything should be rushed. Everything needs to be very well organized.”

COVID-19 Vaccinations

The response to Beutner wanting all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 seemed lukewarm.

Salazar said she was “fearful” of giving any coronavirus vaccine to her children.

“We don’t know what reactions they may have,” she said.

The LAUSD Superintendent said the vaccination requirement is similar to mandatory immunizations for measles and mumps.

Vidalia Bardales, mother of a 9th grader at V.I.S.A., supports that move. “Children need to get the vaccine to be safer,” says Bardales, who has already received her first coronavirus immunization and awaits her second dose.

Still, Bardales doesn’t foresee students returning to the classroom this school year, given how slowly the immunization process is going. And she said, she wouldn’t dare send her son to school unless all safety measures are implemented to prevent contagion.

“For me, my son is safer taking classes online,” she notes.

Norma, the teacher, agreed that this school year should be finished online.

“I do not think we will go back to the classroom. I have not received any notice that we’re due for vaccinations,” she said, adding she is willing to be immunized.

Teachers and other essential workers are slated to receive vaccines as early as the end of January.

Norma, who has two children ages 13 and 10, said “I don’t think I would feel comfortable sending my children to school” without being vaccinated.

“As long as there’s not a safe vaccine for children, I’m going to continue having them enrolled in distance learning,” she said.

“I see ourselves going back (next school year) and I see people who will be taking precautions [such as] wearing masks.”

Norma admits it would take some getting used to at first, but it’s not impossible to return to a routine.

“It’s going to take practice, diligence and lots of patience, but children are very resilient,” she said. “Overall, they’re going to be very happy.”