A change.org petition is challenging decisions by the Manteca Unified School District board — as well as their counterparts in Oakdale, Lodi, and Tracy — for deciding to reopen schools in August with a number of COVID-19 protocols in place but without halving the number of students in classrooms by going to what is essentially a modified double session education model.
The petition launched Monday that had 994 signatures as of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday asserts “a small group of angry selfish parents are bullying our schools and forcing them to make decisions that put our students’ education in jeopardy and lives in danger.”
“These parents are saying they are not going to make their child wear a mask, but our students have a right to go to school and get a safe education. Our students have a right to a safe education even if that means protecting them by temporarily putting in place social distancing and wearing masks. This would require smaller classes, not placing up to 34 students into a classroom. We’re not opposed to going back to school, but we need safeguards for everyone. An AM/PM or alternating day schedule would create smaller classes of 12-15 students. It would also require making sure the air conditioning units are not recirculating air. It would also require daily temperature checks. Without these safeguards, our schools will be dangerous to students and staff, and the schools will have to close again.”
The petition header includes the wording “Teachers need your help. Protect our children and educators from COVID-19” superimposed above a photo that carried the district’s vision and mission statement on that has appeared on the Manteca Unified website. The words “feel safe” are pointed to with a large superimposed red arrow. The words appear in the vision statement that reads, “Every student works to achieve grade level standards, feels safe, and is supported to realize individual success.”
The petition was launched by “anonymous, anonymous.”
Manteca Unified trustees — on a 5-2 vote on June 16 — opted for a fulltime, modified on campus learning inclusive of all reasonably accommodated wellness practices and safeguards. The two dissenting trustees, Kathy Howe and Eric Duncan, favored going to two-staggered sessions each day with half the students attending in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.
The board also unanimously moved forward with a 100 percent virtual learning academy that has been in the development process for nearly a year before the pandemic struck. It would involve Manteca Unified teachers that would interact in real time with students as well as have face-to-face meetings from time-to-time.
By advancing the two learning models, the board was hoping to provide choices that would make students and their families comfortable and feel safe as well as offering the best possible learning models to suit individual needs and goals.
Given there are 37 days before the next school year starts on Aug. 6, it is questionable how effective the petition might end up being in terms of trying to reverse the school board’s position.
School board protocol requires one of the trustees that voted for the return to a full-time on-campus learning model with COVID-19 protocols in place — either Bob Wallace, Stephen Schluer, Cathy-Pope Gotschall, Karen Pearsall, or Marie Freitas — to ask that the decision be reconsidered.
Unless a special board meeting is called, the next time the trustees meet is on July 21. That’s 17 days before the next school year starts.
The first comment on the petition was posted by Ken Johnson, leader of the Manteca Educators Association.
“Remember, we’re talking about lives here,” Johnson noted in his comments that he posted as to why he signed the petition. “This is neither Republican or Democrat. We have 4% of the world’s population but we have 25% of the world’s cases and 25% of the world’s deaths. How many people have to get infected or die in our area before we take this pandemic seriously?”
The petition states the signers are asking for:
*Smaller class sizes that will allow for social distancing
*Requirement of safeguards such as masks
*Staggered morning and afternoon sessions
*Follow reasonable Centers for Disease Control Guidelines
*Follow reasonable California Department of Health Guidelines
*Follow reasonable County Public Health Guidelines
The district is currently working on finalizing what reopening will look like. That endeavor is expected to be completed by no later than July 13 after which time steps will be taken to prepare each of the 32 schools that will tailor the protocols to issues related to their specific campuses.
Examples offered June 16 as to what the modified on-campus program may incorporate from state and county health COVID-19 guidelines included:
*daily self-temperature checks for all students and staff
*marked one-way traffic in hallways
*training for all faculty, staff, and students regarding appropriate COVID-19 procedures
*bathroom monitoring to avoid overcrowding
*suspending use of drinking fountains and encourage use of reusable water bottles
*high “touch point” areas will be sanitized throughout the day
*limit visitors and volunteers to the school site to essential business only
*requiring staff to wear face masks and highly recommending students wear face masks.
The petition wording notes, “Health officials have stated that the second wave of COVID-19 will be worse. So, reopening without social distancing and other safety measures before the second wave even hits us is irresponsible and dangerous. We understand everyone is rejoicing for things to get back to normal but not without offering protections like social distancing and facemasks during a pandemic where people are dying, now is not the time.
“It is believed that children’s immune systems are strong enough to resist the virus. However, this is not the case for everyone as different people have different immune systems. The students will become super spreaders because as we all know, children are known for maintaining poor hygiene. This will spread COVID throughout our communities. You may be safe and asymptomatic, but those family and friends that we cherish who are immunocompromised might suffer and die.”