Teachers call on state to improve safety plans as some Bay Area counties prepare for in-person learning

NAPA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- "There is no compromise." That's the message from the California Teachers Association (CTA) surrounding their demand for safety protections as some counties prepare to return to the classroom.

On Wednesday, the Napa County Office of Education (NCOE) and four of its county school districts were the latest to announce the move to hybrid learning.

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The districts include Napa Valley Unified School District, St. Helena Unified School District, Calistoga Joint Unified School District and Howell Mountain Elementary School District.

All will incorporate both distance learning and in-person instruction beginning, October 26.

"We're starting very slowly," NCOE Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nemko told ABC7 News. "We want to make sure that we have everything perfect, because the most important thing is the safety of our students and our faculty."

Dr. Barbara Nemko explained it'll be a phased approach, primarily two days a week with a morning and afternoon cohort.

"We looked at the California Department of Public Health guidance, we included the California Department of Education guidance, we rely on our local public health officer Dr. Karen Relucio, who is absolutely wonderful, and has been with us every step of the way," Nemko added. "So we think we have got the protocols in place to keep our kids and staff safe."

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We talked to Bay Area teachers and school officials about virtual learning struggles and what they're doing to make classwork more robust this fall.



Meantime, the California Teachers Association (CTA) is calling on the state to establish basic safety protections and secure testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We have to have the testing. We have to have the contract tracing. We have to make sure that we have the ventilation, the PPE, all of those things in order to go back to what's best for our students," CTA President E. Toby Boyd told ABC7 News.

Boyd is also a kindergarten educator who said what's best is in-person instruction. However, he said the lack of federal support is making that a difficult assignment under the pandemic.

"People are starting to realize that we need the funding. If the federal government is not going to do so, then we need to turn to the state," he said. "And I understand the state doesn't really have the funding right now."

He continued, "We need to be creative and make those decisions, and come to the light that we have to do something for education. In order to get us back into the classrooms, in order to reboost this economy- for those parents that have to work, and the children who need to learn too."

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In a Sept. 16 letter, Boyd and CTA executive officers wrote to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond- on behalf of their 310,000 members.

"I will say, for the safety of our students and our members and their families, there is no compromise," Boyd said.

However, others see potential and told ABC7 News they've developed a safety plan they think will work.

"They need the social interaction. They need to learn the all the social emotional skills that are hard to get when you're all by yourself in your house," Dr. Nemko with NCOE said. "So, we want to do it. We've been working towards this for months!"

In a release out Wednesday, NCOE explained it's working with the school districts to develop reopening plans with staff and student safety as the guiding principle.
"The districts are working to finalize preparations to ensure a safe return with a hybrid of in-person instruction and distance learning," the release read.

It continued:

"The issues currently being addressed by the school districts include:
  • Implementing all California and Napa County Public Health guidelines for schools.
  • Confirming capacity for local widespread staff COVID-19 testing.
  • Recruiting and training substitute teachers to maintain continuity of instruction.
  • Arranging transportation as needed for students following all safety protocols.
  • Final cleaning and preparation of facilities for use by staff and students.
"

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Dr. Nemko added, "Now we have to have all of our stuff tested, with 25-percent of the staff tested each week and the entire staff tested every two months. So that was a challenge. We've been working with our public health office, and we think we have that worked out."

Families will have the option to continue with full distance learning.

A recent release by CTA shared additional comments from Boyd.

"Absent a prudent and responsible public health response from the White House, we need the governor and our elected leaders to develop the necessary strategy our students, educators and communities deserve as they return to school in person," Boyd said. "Not doing so exacerbates educational and health inequities as only the elite and private schools will be able to pay for regular testing - leaving public schools to suffer both the health consequences and the 'yo-yo' effect of opening and then closing again due to the spread of the virus."

For information on CTA's COVID-19 response, click here.

The "NCOE Considerations for Reopening Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic" can be found at napacoe.org/ncoe-covid19-information/

The In-Person Instruction Plans for each school district can be found at:



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