HARVEY, La. — Jefferson Parish Public Schools have pushed the start date for classes from August 6 to August 12. It buys the district, and teachers, four more days to figure out how to manage schools in the COVID-19 era. Still, JP Schools has not announced what school will look like this fall.
Wednesday, at a special school board meeting, teachers, parents, and representatives from the Jefferson Federation of Teachers pleaded with the school board to delay in-person learning.
“Physically returning to campus under any school calendar is not just unsafe, but it represents a clear violation of our rights as teachers,” said John Guzda, a history teacher.
Another teacher, visibly emotional as she spoke, said, “Our students are our world, but so are our own children.”
The teacher’s union said the list of concerns gets longer every day. Some teachers are immune-compromised or the caretaker of someone with medical issues.
Others worry about the preparedness of schools. What if a school runs out of sanitizer or masks? How will small classrooms space desks six feet apart? Who will keep kids socially distant on school buses? And what happens if one child tests positive?
The union says a poll of several thousand JP Schools households revealed that most parents believe now is not the time to resume in-person learning.
"70 percent of parents, educators, students, and caretakers in this region stated that they are not comfortable returning to school,” said Sandra Hauer, of the union.
President Kesler Camese-Jones said teachers will be ready but want to know what to be prepared for.
“In-person is always best. But we just want to do it when it’s safe,” said Camese-Jones.
“They’re ready. Our teachers are going to always make sure that kids have the best. They want to plan. They just want to know, they want to know the details.”
They’d like the district to agree to wait 14 days with no new coronavirus cases before in-person learning can resume.
During the meeting, Guzda suggested a strike if classrooms open too soon.
“I am calling on our union leadership to propose and organize a strike if this request of 100 percent virtual learning across the district this semester is not met,” he said.
Camese-Jones says she’d like to see the plan first, and then move forward based on the opinion of the majority of teachers. She did not say the union has strongly considered a strike.
“We haven’t seen the plan yet. So talking about any of that at this time is a bit premature because we have not had an opportunity to see those details. And we are in communication with the district,” said Camese-Jones.
The school system plans to release its official plan for reopening on Monday.