(Link to poll results are at the end of this article)
As the effects of COVID-19 reign over America, everyone from students to nursing home residents are feeling its presence in varying degrees. After realizing COVID-19 is not a temporary disease, agreeing on how to proceed in everyday activities became troublesome, including finding the optimal way to continue educating Generation Z.
Elementary, middle, and high schools across the country now differ more in their approach to education than ever before. Some have chosen to remain open during the pandemic while others are on track to virtually educate until the end of the school year. Still others, like MC, are conflicted on how and when to return to in-person schooling.
Though Poway Unified School District originally planned to carry on virtual learning until at least December, this timeline was recently expedited. Elementary schools have already returned to in-person learning, while middle and high schools are set to return in late November.
“People often say we are building the plane as we are flying it, and in this case we are actually inventing the plane as we are flying it,” Superintendent Dr. Marian Kim Phelps said in an interview.
Poway Unified has been placed in an impossible spot. Juggling student safety, quality of education, and various student, teacher, and parent perspectives is extremely challenging, especially since views often conflict across groups. One group, small in number, but essential to the educational system, have very passionate views on the matter: teachers.
In a poll conducted by the MC Sun approximately one week ago, 39 out of the roughly 60 teachers and counselors on campus responded. Of those, 74.3% either strongly disagreed, disagreed, or were uncertain about the statement, “I want to resume in-person teaching before a vaccine is administered.” Only 10.3% strongly agreed with this statement and 15.4% agreed.
The primary reason for these results was evident by responses to other poll questions. When presented with the statement, “I will be concerned about my own health if MCHS resumes in-person teaching,” 77% strongly agreed or agreed, with only 12.8% saying they were uncertain and 10.3% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
Others voiced concern over what a “normal school environment” would look like during a pandemic.
“I don’t think the parents are aware that when the students come back to school it won’t be the same as last year when everything was ’normal’,” said one teacher. “In fact, I believe that it might be more traumatizing coming back to school with all the rules and regulations that students and teachers are required to follow and maintain for a long period of time,” an anonymous MC teacher said in response to a poll question.
Though the majority of MC teachers prefer virtual over in-person learning, reverting from a classroom to a zoom room has proven difficult.
“I have been working 10-12 hour days Monday through Friday and at least 8 hours over the weekends. Even with all of this time, I still cannot manage to get ahead or even input grades in a timely manner. I am planning on a day by day basis, building the plane while in the air,” an anonymous teacher said in response to a poll question, referencing a plane comparison similar to Dr. Phelps.
Evidently many teachers are willing to overlook the difficulties which come with virtual learning for fear of even worse in-person learning circumstances and health complications. Despite poll results collected regarding the MC community, a poll conducted by Dr.Phelps, which surveyed the entirety of PUSD, showed an extremely conflicting outcome.
“When we took a survey of all the teachers over 70% of them wanted to return back to on-campus learning,” Dr. Phelps said.
When asked whether or not this poll contributed to the abrupt switch in reopening plans, Dr. Phelps said, “It did influence my decision, but we want to make sure we clarify that it was actually the Board’s decision. So when I made the initial decision and then had a Board meeting, the Board of Education made the decision to come back before December.”
Dr. Phelps’ poll was not broken down into elementary, middle, and high school so it is impossible to tell if responses vary across levels of schooling.
Due to the stark contrast of these two polls, the MC Sun wanted to confirm results and unfortunately did not get the chance to do so. A link to the poll was inquired for, but has not been received yet. If confirmation is received, this page will be updated.
In deciding when to reopen schools, the Board of Education took multiple factors into account, not simply student, teacher, or parent viewpoints.
“The factors that affected us were number one the safety of our kids and the better quality of education guaranteed by in-person learning, I would say that those were equally weighted,” Dr. Phelps said.
Regardless, she also mentioned all three factors had a huge influence on The Board’s decision and it is extremely hard to rank them in the aforementioned way.
Even if concerns of parents, teachers, and students are slightly lower on the tier list, the Board of Education works hard to stay in contact with these individuals, especially district teachers, through polling and more.
“We work in collaboration with the Poway Federation of Teachers, [with] their negotiation team, and we come to agreements as far as any policies and procedures in regards to workload, responsibilities, and work environment for our teachers. So I would say yes that we do take [teacher views] into account,” Dr. Phelps said.
The Poway Federation of Teachers is an organization whose mission is to give a voice to teachers and help resolve disputes. An attempt to establish contact with PFT was made but the MC Sun is still waiting for a reply. If a reply is received, this page will be updated.
Despite efforts by the Superintendent and school board to reach out to teachers, some still feel their voices are not being heard by higher authorities.
“Please be transparent. There seems to be a large disconnect between district leadership and teachers,” an anonymous teacher replied in response to the poll question, “If you could say something to the district board regarding its COVID-19 policies, what would it be?”
Some teachers specifically feel the District is not doing enough to update teachers on changing policies and the district’s consequent actions to these changes.
“Be purposefully transparent in policies and expectations. There are CONSTANT changes at federal, state, and local levels. Send clear, simple emails with the sole purpose of informing us of changes,” an anonymous MC teacher said in response to the same poll question.
Still other teachers feel the District has been placed between a rock and a hard place and sympathize with their current situation.
“Being in a leadership role right now seems to be a lose-lose situation. You [administration] are doing a great job, keep it up!” an anonymous MC teacher said in response to the same poll question.
Regardless of teacher viewpoints from MC, our school, along with all other schools from PUSD, are set to open doors before December. If teachers cannot adjust this outcome, they want to at least ensure the transition is made as smoothly as possible.
The following are a list of suggestions to make classrooms safer in November made by teachers who participated in the MC poll. All teachers chose for their answers to be anonymous.
“I would like more clear communication on what safety measures will be put in place. A straight forward, itemized list. We are swarmed with emails. The emails on our safety can be lost in the mix. This is why I put “uncertain” for many questions. An elementary class of 20-25 is different than a high school teacher that will come into contact with 140 students and the procedures should reflect this difference.”
“MORE air exchange! One air purifier per classroom is not going to have the flow rate needed to prevent suspended air particulates from accumulating in a room all day. We need to have more options to teach with better ventilation, outdoors.”
“Plexiglass in classroom, smaller class sizes.”
“Saliva test for everyone, staff and students, weekly, until a vaccine is available.”
Though the list of suggestions continues, some teachers (16.4% according to the aforementioned poll results) are content with the measures currently in place.
“I believe the kids across the country have been doing well with in-person school. Why should we be so strict? If we follow some simple protocols as facemasks, washing hands/hand sanitizer and taking temperatures, then we would eliminate potential a majority of the spread,” said one.
Dr. Phelps summarized the protocols currently in place for high schools returning to in-person learning.
“We’re doing the initial pre-checks before we enter the campus, temperature checks and everything,” she said. “Wearing masks is pretty high up there because there is evidence that shows that it does provide additional safety for the transmission and the spread of COVID. The six foot distancing and physical distancing is also something that we will try to maintain when possible.”
When asked which of these protocols will be strictly enforced Dr. Phelps said the following.
“I don’t know if I would use the word ‘strictly enforced’ because none of us want to be the ‘mask police’ and none of us want to spend our time during the day trying to chase that stuff down. The hope is that we will educate our kids. Students will follow the rules, families will support us, I mean that is the ultimate hope,” she said.
Though circumstances are nowhere near perfect, and none of the options, in-person, hybrid, or virtual learning, are unanimously preferred among teachers, students, or parents, one of them must be followed. As MC makes the transition to in-person learning, there is one ideal all the aforementioned groups agree on: cases must be kept at a minimum and the safety of the MC community must stay intact. To all teachers, students, parents, and administrators: We may not agree on every single policy, but working together is essential to gain a unanimously favored outcome, and this article, which serves as a platform to voice concerns, can be an example of a first step towards a safe learning environment in November.
Link to results for poll conducted by the MC Sun: