Teacher voices on reopening SMUHSD schools

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Alex Kelly

Teachers face challenges while stuck at home during distance learning, but still have many concerns about reopening schools.

Alex Kelly, Staff Reporter

Teacher voices will play a very important role in the San Mateo Union High School District’s (SMUHSD) plan to bring students back to in-person school. Teachers will be taking on significant risks by entering the workplace and exposing themselves to the virus when high schools in the district open, and they will want to make sure that the reopening process is safe for them and their students. Due to the many concerns and interests that teachers have regarding the reopening process, the San Mateo Union High School District Teachers Association (SMUHSDTA) has been negotiating with the SMUHSD Board on how to safely and effectively open the schools.

“Our position is that not only should [reopening] be safe but it also should be conducive to learning, and currently both sides are trying to find a way to get back as safely as possible, but also provide a productive learning environment,” SMUHSDTA president Craig Childress said.

One growing question in the reopening process is what role vaccines will play as schools begin to reopen. Teachers are part of phase 1B in the vaccine distribution plan, the group that should be receiving the next wave of the COVID-19 vaccine. Childress said that the state is looking into whether or not vaccines will be required in the reopening of schools, but it remains questionable as to whether there are enough doses to vaccinate every student, teacher and staff member before returning to school. 

“Teachers feel very strongly that vaccines are important. They feel very strongly that everyone should be vaccinated to the greatest extent possible to avoid increased risk and spread of the disease once we move back to in-person,” Childress said.

Vaccines are still a very complex topic that is ever-changing, and how they are handled will certainly influence how and when students can return to campus. 

While plans are being made on the logistics and specifics of coming back, one teacher has thoroughly cautioned the district to not take significant risks that will endanger students and teachers. Spanish teacher Sally Shurter issued a letter to the Board at the Dec. 10 board meeting, which Capuchino High School Spanish teacher Arienne Adamickova read aloud. In the letter Shurter outlined her struggle with COVID-19, which she has contracted twice, with her more recent case being long COVID-19, a variation of COVID-19 that consists of long-lasting symptoms. This has prevented her from teaching since early September and she ultimately had to put her students into the district’s independent Spanish study class at the end of the fall semester. 

“You have a choice, there are options… I implore you, please take a moment to make the wise decision that will be better all around for everyone in the long run,” Adamickova said  on Shurter’s behalf.

Teachers teaching online have been facing struggles of their own. Over Zoom, it’s much harder for them to connect to kids and make sure that everyone is participating and understanding the material.

“You know there’s some things we can really only do physically. Well, online, right now having folks examine the document or doing a simulation is always just so much more organic in a classroom,” AP European history and Modern World History teacher Jim Chin said. 

While Chin has certainly missed the classroom, he also feels that returning to school now  would create challenges for him and his family. 

“I take care of two elderly folks… if we go back to physically teaching right I would probably have to rent out a place and can’t come into contact with them,” Chin said.

The dilemma of jeopardizing their health and their families health is one that many teachers will have to face.  Many teachers would have to consider their situations and evaluate what the safest decision is. 

Until a district plan to resume in person learning is approved, teachers and students alike continue online learning. When schools finally are able to return, teachers will be very important in dictating what this return will look like.