SMMUSD Teachers Strongly Against School Reopenings

SMMUSD Administrative Offices

As SMMUSD continues reopening discussions, teachers are making their viewpoint loud and clear: they do not want to set foot in the classroom given the current case levels. 

In a survey sent out by the teacher’s union, 45 percent of teachers said they would consider taking leave, resigning or retiring if SMMUSD implemented a hybrid return while the county is in the purple or red tiers. Seventy-five percent prefer distance learning with limited on campus activities over a hybrid model when the county enters the red tier. 

SMMUSD is currently pursuing two courses of limited reopening while in the purple tier. It is resuming limited in-person services for special education students, English learners and adult transition students and is also applying for a waiver to reopen TK to grade 2. 

Sixteen teachers called in to a Nov. 19 school board meeting and appealed to the district to not pursue waivers or a hybrid reopening. 

“I’m here tonight as both a teacher and a parent to implore you to reconsider opening specialized preschool classrooms,” teacher Tashia Buccioni said, speaking about her special needs son. “He does not understand how to socially distance for extended periods of time. He also struggles to keep his mask on for longer than 30 to 45 minutes at a time, and I have a feeling he’s not the only one like this.” 

“It frightens me for myself and also for my extremely medically fragile students to bring them back on campus when they cannot wear masks and they cannot socially distance,” special education teacher Esther Andersen said. “Bringing students on campus is adding the stress and the difficulty of putting their life and my life at risk.” 

Sixty-seven percent of surveyed teachers did not support resuming any in-person instruction while in the purple tier. Only 10 percent of teachers surveyed said they were confident that safety measures will be fully implemented and maintained by the district. 

“We have experienced safety issues in our rooms for years and we have seen how the district is struggling to follow through with consistent safety measures, just in the limited on campus assessments and how they are telling our special ed teachers to reuse single use PPE like surgical mask and N95,” teacher Shelly Ehrke described. 

“I ask of you today to rescind the waiver that will force my colleagues in special education to return to in person teaching without providing them the appropriate PPE, they are lacking N95s for teachers and para educators, there is lack of ventilation in our dated school buildings,” teacher Victoria Chang said. 

In the Nov. 19 school board meeting, several teachers also expressed concern about the district’s lack of a testing plan with a hybrid model. 

“The refusal to implement the state recommended surveillance testing underscores that what can be afforded is determining safety measures, not science, and that’s terrifying,” Ehrke said. 

“The district is still seeking waivers to get students on campus without regular testing for staff,” teacher Lindsay Okumura said. “I urge you to support students and teachers and give them the consistency and predictability and the commitment to distance learning through the end of the 2021 school year.” 

The district’s reopening plans do not include testing because it is cost prohibitive and because test results only provide a snapshot in time, according to Gail Pinsker, district spokesperson. 

Some teachers also expressed the view that there are not enough educational benefits to a hybrid model to outweigh the negatives. 

“There will be no socializing or partner work in a hybrid classroom. There will be no close work between teachers and students,” teacher Parisa Jung said. “What will happen in the hybrid model will look nothing like school. We currently have a great model.” 

The SMMUSD Board of Education will decide between a hybrid model or distance learning plus for its red tier reopening plan in a Dec. 17 meeting. The district has made it clear that it will take teachers’ views into strong consideration when forming decisions.

A version of this story first ran in the Santa Monica Daily Press.