As educators, we know in-person learning is best and we want to be back with our students. But we also want to make sure it’s safe.
The St. Paul Federation of Educators is very disappointed and concerned about the governor’s new plan to reopen school buildings and Superintendent Joe Gothard’s decision to send elementary students back into full, in-person learning starting in February.
What’s safe for our community in St. Paul isn’t the same as other school districts. About 80 percent of our students are BIPOC. Decades of racist policies in health care and other areas have made communities of color especially vulnerable to COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. We must be very careful to make sure schools aren’t where children, even young children, catch the virus and bring it home to their parents and grandparents.
District leaders are giving families false hope if they move too fast to reopen school buildings when community spread is at an all-time high. The latest 14-day case rate per 10,000 residents is 106.15 in Ramsey County — that’s more than three times what district leaders had previously said was safe to return to buildings. Since the start of the school year, District Leaders have said they would return to hybrid when the 14-day case rate was 30 per 10,000.
If the virus continues spreading like it is in the community and too many educators get sick or are forced to quarantine, more community members will be at risk and buildings will close again. We’ve seen this happen in school districts across Minnesota already.
SPFE worked with the district for months to develop a safe reopening plan that brings our students back into hybrid learning when the time was right. COVID-19 is still present in our communities and safety is still critical. We expect the district to meet with us and other bargaining groups before Jan. 19 to ensure the proper safety measures are in place to protect students and educators.
This includes additional PPE beyond a face shield and mask for educators working in close contact with students, clear staffing protocols for what happens when there’s an outbreak in a building and additional COVID tests for those who want it. The district should also consider waiting to fully reopen schools until enough educators are vaccinated.
SPFE looks forward to working with the district to come up with a plan that puts the safety of our students, staff and communities first.
Nick Faber, President
Leah VanDassor, Vice President
Yasmin Muridi, Director of Non-Licensed Staff
Todd Marder, Treasurer
Robyn Asher, Secretary