By Josephine Rivera-Hoagland, staff writer
It has been a long time since I was in a classroom. My mental health has been like a roller coaster, I have lost loved ones and I have struggled to get through classes without being distracted. But, truth be told, my experience is common, even considered relatively benign, during a time where other students have to cope with taking care of their siblings while dealing with faulty WiFi and the stress of online school.
And yet only now do we return to in-person learning, at a time when adolescents’ suicide rates are far higher than our COVID death rates. This raises the question:Why did it take a year for us to return? In the last few weeks before school started, when I peered into the windows at Carrillo, the desks were six feet apart, and Clorox wipes were in the corner of each room. The district seemed to have a plan, and I hoped that it was only a few months before students would be sitting in those very desks, wearing masks but finally able to meet their teachers for the first time.
However, the teachers union, SRTA, pushed back, believing that schools opening would be the cause of a spike in cases, and their scientific evidence was dated from during the summer, before much was known about this virus. The belief that schools would turn into virus petri dishes has since been proven false by the CDC, who said that based “on the data available, in-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission. Although national COVID-19 case incidence rates among children and adolescents have risen over time, this trend parallels trends observed among adults.”
Despite the CDC’s statement, the SRTA’s resolution stayed in place without being updated. It’s on their website even as of the date this article is being published.
However, it is important to note that the SRTA and district have made compromises for the sake of allowing students back to school for the month of May. This includes opening classrooms to students with the addition of masks and distancing, along with adhering to strict social distancing policies in halls and outside the classroom. But even with new research saying that only three feet of distancing is needed between desks, old policies, such as the six foot rule, will continue to be used in classrooms during the next month rather than updating guidelines to reflect CDC guidance.
The local Boys and Girls Club has been open during the pandemic for children who need support. Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County Health Officer, has not shut them down, even as their number of children increased as more parents had to rely on their services.
Meanwhile, restaurants, hair salons and breweries have all been open since January, and more nonessential businesses are opening as cases drop. Are these businesses more important than schools? The capability of the next generation of workers is at stake, but to the adults leading Sonoma County, schools should be one of the last institutions to open, and even then only partially. When it comes to activism, students are applauded for their strong voices and protests; now we are effectively silenced by those who determine our path without considering our health and feelings on the subject.
My great grandfather is 77, and he still wakes up every morning before five to go work in the vineyards with many other workers. He is now fully vaccinated, but he worked for over a year despite his vulnerability to the virus. Meanwhile, waiters go from table to table while patrons take their masks off to eat, often forgetting to put them back on while they’re talking. Dozens of construction workers build houses in Fountaingrove, while working side by side all day. The county has not taken drastic action to improve these workers’ conditions, yet when it comes to teachers, their health must be placed before the education of their students. This hypocrisy has been quietly endured by those who would rather submit than challenge our overpowered teachers union.
During this time of economic turmoil, teachers haven’t had to face payroll cuts or mass layoffs. None of them have lost any benefits or vacation time–in fact, they are interacting less with their students with the addition of asynchronous Wednesdays. Compared to other workers, teachers have been relatively healthy and comfortable throughout the pandemic, while parents struggle to keep children engaged in their Zooms.
At the end of the first semester, SRCS began investigating why so many students are failing their classes, but to me the answer seems so obvious: human connection can never be replaced with a computer screen.
I know many will disagree with me. But students do not get to be treated this way by a union who refuses to compromise for the sake of the youth in our community.
So what do we do now? I say that the district and the SRTA should put the students first and consult our student body when making decisions that will affect us for decades to come. We demand a better quality of education over the complaints of the union.