Thursday, February 18, 2021

Bretón Vrs. the Sacramento Teachers

 Sacramento Bee opinionnaire  Marcos Bretón offers up one of his frequent attacks on the Sacramento teachers’ union in today’s Bee

It is the usual anti union diatribe filled with paragraphs cut and pasted from prior columns.  He purposes to deal with the issue of opening schools in Sacramento.  If you ignore all the hyperbole, you get down to the dividing issue – when should Sacramento City Unified re open schools.

There is substantive agreement between the district administration and the union except for one issue. 

Should teachers be given vaccines prior to returning to work.  That is the issue.

Bretón has one side; the union argues teachers should have vaccines first.  That's all.  The remainder in innuendo and name calling. 

Below  is an alternate view- with data citations. 

Re: Opening schools

David Dayen, The American Prospect  Feb.15, 2021

Last Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally released a long-awaited set of guidelines for how to safely reopen schools. It really says what the data has said for a while: schools are generally safe when community transmission is low, less safe when transmission is high, and only really safe when following mitigation guidelines, which include masking, social distancing, frequent hand washing and things like not coughing out loud without covering your mouth, sanitation, ventilation, quarantine and isolation for the sick, and contact tracing.

Many observers have put the lack of school reopening on teachers and particularly teachers unions, but the polling shows a different story, which plays directly into the above paragraph. If you ask parents whether they want to return their kids to in-person instruction, you see a significant disparity cut by race and class. In general terms, whiter, richer parents are more likely to want to return their kids to school; poorer parents and parents of color do not. And the difference is that, for the whiter and richer parents, their communities have not been as ravaged by COVID, and their schools can actually undertake the mitigation measures.

Black and Latino communities have seen a disproportionate level of death and suffering during the pandemic. Whether community transmission is high right now or not in their area, the accumulated impact makes it feel high. (In truth, community transmission has been high pretty much everywhere in the country since late fall, and only now is coming down to a manageable level.) But just as important, these parents have been battling their school districts for a basic level of quality in the places they send their kids for many years. These schools are simply not equipped for the kinds of adaptations necessary to minimize risk from COVID.

That’s where the Biden relief package comes in. It should be considered, especially by those concerned about the size or unnecessary nature of the plan, as a make-good for decades of disinvestment. It’s as much an infrastructure package as anything.

There are public schools in America without soap in the bathrooms. There are public schools in America, a shocking number of them, with no working air conditioning system. Lots of schools have no on-site nurses, and janitorial staffs are often inadequate. Countless students are jammed into too-small rooms with bursting class sizes. The Philadelphia Public Schools came up with the idea to 
put window fans on boards and have that serve as ventilation for one of the largest and poorest school districts in the country. Students and staff are headed back in the Philly schools next week.

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By contrast, this white person’s school district in Brookline, Massachusetts, where the median household income in 2019 was $121,949, is presumably not indicative of these realities.

Some of the CDC guidelines will be difficult no matter what school people find themselves in. It’s hard to get kids to physically distance or keep masks on or cough into their elbow. And the latest anger from the open-the-schools set, that six feet of distance is "impossible" in schools, is mostly a cri de coeur against regulation itself, as usual for the 
libertarians leading the charge. (See this dystopic potential solution to the distancing problem, rather than, you know, distancing.) 

But it’s clear that some schools cannot come close to providing a safe environment, really even under normal conditions let along during COVID. They don’t have the possibility for distancing, the ventilation, the medical personnel, or the sanitation measures needed. That’s why there’s $130 billion in the American Rescue Plan, which can be put toward making these necessary adjustments. It includes an "Equity Challenge Grant" intended to reverse historical inequities in schools and the impacts on students of color.

That could easily be put toward investment. How about getting an air filtration system with the highest-quality filters (a pretty low-cost option!) in every school in America? How about money for staffing nurses at every school, and ensuring a clean environment in every school? This could be an opportunity, not just to reopen, but to level the playing field in the built environment of our public school system. There’s a concern that states and cities will take the new money and drop out their share of funding for these schools, leaving them in worse position once the one-time funds are exhausted. Congress could work to try to prevent that, and should.

Jared Bernstein, now on Joe Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, championed an infrastructure program during the last recession called 
FAST, or Fix America’s Schools Today. He reasoned that upgrading the nation’s schools would create lots of construction jobs while improving learning long-term. A $50 billion program would produce about half a million dollars per school building in the U.S., with a focus on weatherization, better air quality, mold and asbestos abatement, plumbing updates, boiler and window replacement, and outdoor learning improvements.

The American Rescue Plan can be a version of FAST, with effects not only for the pandemic but the future. And this is an area where we ought to be investing anyway. The concerns from the Larry Summerses of the world that we’re just "throwing away" temporary emergency spending (we’re not) are unfounded, because school upgrades are among the most necessary infrastructure spending options we can take. It’s long overdue.



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