by Emon Johnson
Two teachers from the Compton Unified School District, Amber Holloway and Rashonda McCruther, explained challenges they’ve faced over the years while working with the CUSD, and shared their thoughts on the district’s plan to bring students back starting October 5, 2020.
“There is no plan,” Holloway, who has been with the CUSD for over 15 years now, states. “And that’s the problem. How are we having students come back? We’re not testing, you have plexiglass if your school can afford it, and we’re not doing temperature checks.”
Given the loose structure of the district’s return plan, as well as the virus’ current prevalence in the LA area, Holloway expresses strong distaste with the fact that the district is forcing teachers to return, should they want to keep their jobs.
According to McCruther, however, some form of plan and structure should have been apparent as each principle in the CUSD was required to turn in a plan on how their school would operate during these times. “Each principle had to turn in a COVID plan. Now, why the plan that they decided was best for their school and community, is not being followed… I don’t know that,” she says in our interview. “I just know legally, they’re allowed to have 10% of the population return.”
This 10% includes teachers and aids. So, say if the CUSD has 20,000 students total, 10% would be 2,000 students; however, teachers and aids must also be considered.
According to Holloway, many teachers have been forced to retire due to not wanting to come back. Even those with medical needs are being asked to come back, or take a leave of absence, regardless if they’re able to successfully perform distance learning.
Surprisingly to some, McCruther states that her students are, “Doing better, faster, because of distance learning.” She believes the flexibility of distance learning has certain benefits to it. “When they do their independent practice, they [already] heard me directly teach them, they saw the video to teach them in a fun and interactive way, they have their notes, and they’re able to tackle independent practice in a way I wasn’t able to do in the classroom… Now that technology is the only way we can teach, you’re free to use whatever you want to help your kids learn. And in my opinion, that’s the best part.”
She’s come up with a communication system using different gestures that her students incorporate when they have questions or comments. By including an introductory video, and incorporating fun learning styles, McCruther has found success in teaching her students, and even notes that some of them have best friends, though they’ve never met in person. Her goal was to make the students comfortable and avoid separation anxiety once school started.
Nevertheless, while distance learning has proven to be possible, coming back, especially to certain CUSD schools during COVID, may prove to be too much to handle. Both of the schools that these two teachers work at have no windows in their classrooms. They have no hot water to wash their hands. Kindergartners are not required to wear masks. And, of the 10% of the population returning, these students are what the district refers to as 1’s and 2’s, or “high risks” students. The numbers “1” and “2” represents their acquisition of English, with 5’s being fluent. 5’s, 4’s, and 3’s, however, are not permitted to come back at this time. This translates into teachers engineering even more ways to teach these students who may require extra help. Nevermind the fact that they, according to the loose plan, will be instructing both in-class students, and online students simultaneously.
While in class, teachers are still required to wear masks and maintain six feet distance between themselves and their students. Meaning, these students, who have low levels of English acquisition – many of which will be from the special education side of the schools -will not be able to receive physical prompting from teachers for assistance. Presumably, their aids, if they have one, will assist in doing this. All the while, they’ll be contributing to the extra amount of people in the unventilated classrooms.
With all of this, the district has already priorly presented obstacles and a lack of consideration for teacher needs, according to Holloway and McCruther. McCruther had to seek legal action once, when after being harassed by a supervisor, she sued, but was then involved with this same supervisor, with them in a higher position. A position now with the ability to decide whether McCruther would be able to work from home given her medical conditions. Though her doctor suggested it was best she work from home and approved her capabilities to do so, she was continuosly denied until she eventually threatened to sue.
Holloway spoke on the fact that the district denied most people accommodations to work from home like specialized chairs, blue screen glasses, or proper tech. McCruther had apparently requested her accommodations for months and had just recently received some assistance in the process. Yet, as the students are returning back to campus, once her medical grace period is up, she will be re-reviewed to see if she will be able to continue to work from home. The importance of this is that the district so far has not seemed to account for COVID spreading; rather, they seem dedicated to bringing the students back no matter what, and having teachers figure out how to manage as they figure out what’s going on.
Having been led this far into a strange pre-semester, some teachers have begun to feel that the district could care less about their personal safety.
“I believe that either the state or federal government is going to cut funding if the school doesn’t bring kids back,” McCruther states. “I don’t know how much money they would lose, but they believe, in our district, that the loss of that money is greater than the loss of those lives. Because it may be someone who makes a lot of money, and once that person is gone, they can bring someone in to pay less.”
In her closing comments, Holloway touched on the importance for the district to include teachers in planning how to operate during these times. “I want to make sure that we come up with a plan that works out for everyone… there’s a way to ask teachers if they mind coming back, you know, when the numbers are where they should be. But, there’s no way that if we are the number one state, number one county of COVID cases, that we should even be discussing anyone coming back right now.”
McCruther sympathized and explained that her son would not be returning to school until after the cold season. She closes with statements to parents. Saying, “You are powerful. You have every right to keep your child home if you feel it is unsafe. And there is no teacher, no principle, no school district, that should require you to put your child at risk.”
Though parents have the option, Holloway notes, to enroll their children in class, either in person or continue with distance learning, there are several people, McCruther notes, primarily REL parents, that “feel that if they don’t send their kids back, they’ll have to go to the Deportation Court. When you talk to one of them, they make them feel that by not letting their child return, [they’re] going to get them into trouble.”
Overall, these two teachers are apprehensive about the loose structure for the district’s COVID plan, though both have seen success, teaching wise, using distance learning. In the coming days they plan to attend local van-pools that protest the coming back, and spread awareness to the parents of their power to assist them in protecting students and teachers alike.