by Brooke eickmann
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, students around the world have traded their textbooks for laptops. Some countries have been able to return to campus, but the United States has been delayed in this process: reopening schools for in-person classes or hybrid models, only to be shut down again. To learn more about the circumstances needed to return to in person learning, YR Media’s Brooke Eickmann spoke to Dot Theodore, program specialist for the Alameda County Public Health Department and Castro Valley Unified School District trustee.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Brooke Eickmann: What is the current plan for reopening schools in Castro Valley Unified School District?
Dot Theodore: There’s a 60 page document on the school website. The gist of it is that when the county gets seven or less new infections per day, two weeks after that point, we can open schools and it’s a process starting with the youngest students first and then moving in. It’s challenging for our youngest kids to access academics online. It’s most important for them to have some face-to-face time with a teacher, so that’s why the young students have been prioritized.
BE: Is this plan influenced by successful models of hybrid or in-person plans?
DT: Yes, they looked at what other countries were doing. They looked not just at academic success, but also public health success, and what was happening in the world, how it was working with the education system, as well as how the infection rates were spreading.
BE: What steps will the district take to keep students and faculty safe?
DT: In the district plan, there are standard procedures: doing your health screening before coming on campus to ensure that you don’t have any Covid symptoms. If a student shows Covid symptoms, there’s protocol about how to isolate, and to make sure their family knows to get them. There’s cleaning procedures, hand sanitizing procedures, and social distancing processes. The schools already have [plexiglass] barriers put in their front offices.
The biggest thing is that not all of the students will be on campus at the same time. So immediately there is a reduction in the density of students and we’ll have to see how it works. But staff and students have to be on the same page about physical distancing, and making sure that you’re not being too close to your classmates and enforcing mask rules, and being vigilant about washing your hands before you touch your face.
BE: Do you feel that the plan is being influenced by parents’ opinions on whether we should already have been at school?
DT: No, I don’t, because I feel that parents have been wanting to return to school since we first entered into red [tier, 5-8% positive cases in the county], and then to orange [tier, 1-3.9% positive cases in the county], but the district wasn’t ready at the time. Even though there was an immense amount of pressure, and there still is. With all of the different processes at the schools and working with teachers to make sure that they felt confident about going back to the classroom, and about the procedures that were put into place and how things are organized on each campus. A lot of work went in to make sure that everything is done at the highest level of public health, despite the fact that parents have been pressuring since school started. Of course we listen to parents, but we also have to balance that with what we feel is the safest thing to do and what teachers feel is the safest thing to do.
BE: Now that the vaccines are more widespread, are they being incorporated into the plans?
DT: No, they’re not, because it would just delay the opening of schools longer, and it’s really important to get the most highly impacted students back on campus. Of course, the [school] district is working with the public health department and other healthcare agencies to try to move teachers closer to the front of the line. Not just teachers, but all education staff so custodians, paraprofessionals, administrators. But to wait for that to happen would just mean more time away for our youngest students to get back into the classroom.
BE: What has been the most difficult step in trying to figure out a solution?
DT: I think for teachers, figuring out how to deliver content in this virtual setting and then to make sure that all of the students have the same access to technology. Not everyone has the same quiet space to work, or same computer for a Wi-Fi access point, or even the issued [computers].
I often hear the rhetoric that teachers are refusing to work, or administrators are refusing to open schools, or school boards aren’t doing their job. None of those people take this lightly, and there’s a lot of thought and heart that goes into the planning.
BE: Thank you for trying to get everyone back into school and for not taking it lightly, and of course for your time with this interview.
DT: You’re welcome. Bye-bye.