The State Of California: What Will Schools Do This Fall?

A school bus picks up students on October 10, 2008 in Pasadena, California.
Photo credit David McNew/Getty Images
By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

The new school year is just a month away for some California school districts, and most of them still don’t have a plan in place for how they will teach kids this fall during the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump continues to pressure states to fully reopen schools and let students come back to campus, and Friday he threatened to withhold federal funding and cut off tax-exempt status for schools and colleges because he said they are indoctrinating students with a radical left-wing agenda.

... and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2020

Parents are understandably anxious about what school will look like this fall.

Will their kids be back in class? Will they have to keep working from home while supervising distance learning? Will it be safe - first and foremost - for their kids to go back to school? And, of course, teachers have the very same anxieties, not wanting to risk their health and that of their families, but also wanting to provide what’s best for their students.

For more on this, we were joined on KCBS Radio’s "The State Of California" by E. Toby Boyd, a kindergarten teacher in Elk Grove, the president of the California Teachers Association and a member of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Coronavirus Recovery Task Force.

You just sent a letter this week to the governor and other state leaders urging them to let you keep teaching from a distance when the school year starts. Can you explain why?

The reason why is that we want to make sure that it’s safe for students, for educators and for the community. The COVID-19 virus is skyrocketing, instead of going down. When we started back in March, we closed the schools because of that problem. Now, all of a sudden, it’s going up and they want to reopen schools. We don’t know if it’s going to be guaranteed that the safety of our students and our members will be taken into account. That’s the concern.

Colleges are letting professors who feel uncomfortable going back to campus stay away. Baseball teams are letting players opt out. What about teachers?

That’s a good question. We have to look again at safety. If a person has a compromised immune system and they have a doctor’s note or something of the sort, they should not be required to go back to school. That’s going to be dependent on each individual district. As you know, we have over 1,000 districts in the state. They would have to make that decision. Each of the associations within the districts are going to negotiate the return for educators in that particular area. We’re going to have varying degrees of what’s going to happen when schools go back in. I can almost guarantee you that no educator that has a compromised medical condition, should be required to go back into the classroom. It doesn’t make sense and no one should be put into harm’s way. That goes for students, too.

Many districts are announcing their plans. Why is all of this so last-minute?

Because of what happened in March and the transition from brick and mortar to distance learning, there wasn’t much time to try to decide how it’s going to look in the future. What we were hoping for is that we’d have a vaccine that was going to be in the works. That hasn’t occurred. Districts didn’t know what was going to happen. So, now we’re playing catch up and we’re trying to utilize the best way, in order to make sure it’s going to be safe for our students and our members to go back into the schools.

How much should parents worry about the impact of this on our kids?

That is a concern. The mental health of our students worries our educators. For some of them, schools were a safety place. Not having them there has been a concern. As a kindergarten educator, that was one of the main factors that I felt students should be in school, the socialization. Even though it’s very academic, they do get to socialize. That is going to be one of the problems we’re going to have. How can you tell us kindergarteners that they can’t get close to their friends when all they want to do is play with them? It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be a challenge. If we have a small enough class size when we go back to school, it might be manageable with the additional assistance. But we have to have all the necessary items in place in order to make sure it’s safe.

What are you telling parents about the balancing act they’re being asked to perform?

The state has done all that it can possibly do because of the limited resources that we have and that we’re going to be dependent upon the federal government in order to assist us in making sure that we have the necessary PPE, we can afford to do the distancing, that we have all of the measuring units and that we have the science and the facts in order to get back into school. The federal government can help us with relief by passing the HEROES Act. That is going to be very important for us to make sure we get back into school, whatever the model is in order to help our students.