7/20/20 – For immediate release: Jeffco teachers call on district to postpone in person learning

Statement from Brooke Williams, President of JCEA

Jeffco educators call on district to postpone in person learning

7-20-2020

Today we call on Jeffco Public Schools to cancel plans to reopen schools on August 24th for 100% in person instruction under the current Restart Jeffco guidelines. The start of school should be online or be postponed until conditions improve and JCEA and Jeffco Schools can come together to agree on how to respond to rapidly changing COVID conditions when deciding whether to resume in person instruction or resort to online instruction.

The reality is school health and safety is community health and safety.

While Jeffco educators would like to see school return to normal as much as parents and students do, we have a responsibility to speak up for community safety. Districts across the country, including neighboring Denver Public Schools, have already decided on an online start and Jeffco educators are calling on Jeffco Public Schools to follow their lead.

Our schools hold a unique position in the success or failure of our community’s response to the COVID pandemic. The risks that we take within schools extends far into our community. The health of our students, our staff, and their families must be a priority in all decisions about school safety protocols. Changing conditions in the rate of infection, and the accessibility of testing and treatment must be considered as well.

As we all try to navigate this unprecedented health crisis, the voice of educators must be included in all planning about the safest and most effective approach to continuing the education of our students, while maintaining the health and safety of our community.

The emergency online instruction of this past spring was not ideal, but under the circumstances of the pandemic, and a one-day pivot from normal instruction to online, the switch was a herculean effort. We pledge to work to improve online instruction practices and equity for students to access such instruction. It is quite possible we will have to pivot from in person to online and back many times over the course of the next school year as the pace of the pandemic ebbs and flows.

Over the last three months, JCEA has conducted three rounds of surveys of Jeffco educators.

The results are clear and direct: We educators love our students and profession and we strongly believe we must place health and safety at the center of every decision made. Here is what educators told us.

Only five percent would feel extremely or moderately safe returning without the following safety provisions in place:

  1.       Broad access to COVID testing for students, staff, and any adult who will be regularly working in the building, and the ability to contact trace and quarantine infected individuals and families. Aurora Public Schools has announced a plan to provide testing for staff members every two weeks. Jeffco should be able to do the same.
  2.       Following all CDC and CDPHE standards for healthy hygiene practices such as hand washing, wearing masks, and classrooms containing only the number of students to allow for social distancing of six feet. Cleaning protocols that meet standards and adequate numbers of trained custodial staff to treat all classrooms.
  3.       Educators must be able to attend any required meetings remotely or with adequate social distancing protocols followed.
  4.       Students demonstrating symptoms or that fail a temperature check will be moved to a quarantine room. Such a room should be staffed with volunteers so as to protect the most vulnerable staff persons.
  5.       Written assurances from the District that asking educators to return to in person instruction is certifying that they will be working in the safest working environment possible. Reopening to in person instruction must be consistent with all applicable federal, state, and local orders. As conditions change, what constitutes a safe working environment must be continually reevaluated with the Association and appropriate health agencies.
  6.       If an educator is likely (based on confirmed cases in the work environment) to have contracted COVID as a result of their required school duties, the District will cover related costs, including covering sick days, medical bills, and potential funeral expenses.
  7.       Ventilation systems must be up to OHSA (federal occupational health) standards. Denver Public Schools has announced an investment of several million dollars to upgrade their ventilation systems.

The depth of our members’ concerns is reflected in the 40 percent of members with underlying health factors that increase their risk of complications from COVID-19. Forty-three percent live with or care for a family member with complicating conditions.

Our survey results indicate that we are likely to have far more educators requesting online assignments than are available which will leave the District in the position of trying to decide whose health and safety is protected and whose is not.

As cases increase across the United States and here in Colorado, our members are concerned about the Restart Jeffco plan.  The plan as currently presented leaves too many questions unanswered for educators, parents, and students to race forward towards the current plan for in person return. JCEA members remain committed to the work of trying to create the best possible path forward to a safer return. We call upon Jeffco leadership to give this planning process more time by committing to a remote or delayed start for the 2020-2021 school year. We look forward to working with District officials to strengthen the current plan and add much needed details.

We recognize that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. We understand that all of us are being called upon to do things we have not done before, and we want to ensure as safe an environment as possible. We also want the additional demands on educators not to impinge on our ability to provide our core service: well-planned instruction, adequate assessment of student progress, and cultivating the relationships with students that form the foundation of a productive educational environment.