SUMMARY: While everyone shares the goal of maintaining health and safety in schools, we don’t always see eye-to-eye regarding the risks, and we don’t always work from the same information. The purpose of this website is to expand the shared knowledge base to support ongoing discussions and quality decision-making related to COVID-19 in our district and in educational settings.
Throughout the pandemic, our members have worked incredibly hard to provide the best possible education under distance-learning conditions, in order to keep everyone as safe as possible. Many of our members have been back on campuses with students, mainly at elementary schools, since the fall of 2020. We are not aware of any testing or tracing efforts rigorous enough to definitively answer the question of whether or not COVID has been transmitted on our campuses. We do know that from the start of in-person instruction (Sept. ‘20) through late February 2021, PAUSD buildings have seen over 30 known cases of PAUSD staff members, and over 20 students, testing positive for COVID – a number that would almost certainly be higher if not for more limiting reporting rules in place prior to January 27, 2021. For more info: https://www.pausd.org/return-to-campus/covid-19-data
“Schools can reopen safely” has become the consensus among government agencies, public health agencies, and many community members. For the individuals on our campuses, the crucial word is “can.” The difference between what’s possible and what actually happens could literally be the difference between life and death for any given individual or their family members (and some doctors estimate that one-third of COVID infections leave individuals with serious ongoing health problems). When campuses are reopened during a period of significant COVID spread, the overall risk for all people on a campus may be represented in small percentages; for many of our individual members, however, the risk of returning is substantially greater than the safety of their current situation. One educator returning to work may necessitate multiple potential exposures through changes in childcare, time spent on public transit, not to mention the uncertainties of the workplace. And as they lose the ability to limit their personal and familial exposure, our secondary school teachers will predominantly continue teaching through the medium of Zoom, mostly to students participating from their homes. The increased likelihood of quarantines following exposure, and the resulting disruption to teaching, learning, and family life, should also be considered. We have questioned the balance of risk and benefits in this arrangement, and we will not apologize for advocating on behalf of all members, including those individuals most at risk on campuses at this time.
Another common refrain right now is “we need to follow the science.” However, epidemiological trends, outcomes, data, and “the science” around contagion and mitigation actually tell multiple and evolving stories. So, follow which science? When? How? This website does contain links to the official COVID safety guidance. Our website enhances any discussion of that guidance by providing additional relevant information from trustworthy sources. Though concerned individuals may not all reach the same conclusions from the available information, we believe it’s essential to acknowledge data and studies that complicate simplified arguments.
We are well aware of the struggles of some PAUSD students and families. We are living through the same pandemic, many of us with our own children and families, and we know from our work with all of our students. All of us want to be on campus working together, when it’s truly as safe as possible. We acknowledge and empathize with those going through mental health difficulties right now, and also give thanks for the school and district support staff and all mental health professionals trying to meet these increased challenges. During normal times, we already had significant levels of mental health problems in our community and country, and our students spend most of their waking hours off campus, even on school days. Supporting student mental health is now, and always, a multi-faceted challenge that must involve families, health care providers, and the community overall as partners with schools and educators.