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Educators Are Concerned About California Thinking To Reopen Schools


California's governor says his state might reopen schools in July or August to make up for the time kids have spent at home during this pandemic. It's not clear how schools would deal with social distancing requirements or other changes that would be necessary to keep kids and teachers safe.

E. Toby Boyd is president of the largest teachers union in the state, the California Teachers Association, and he's also a member of Gov. Newsom's recovery task force.

Thanks for joining us.

E TOBY BOYD: Hello there. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: A Los Angeles teachers union, UTLA, calls this proposal of bringing kids back to school in the summer an unrealistic timeline. Do you agree that it's unrealistic?

BOYD: I could just say that the governor has a thought in mind, and that is basically what he would like to have. And these are just ideas. And an important word that he used was could. He didn't say it was definitely going to happen. And that's the key word - could happen. And so...

SHAPIRO: As a member of his recovery task force, are you saying, let's see what we can do to make this happen? Or are you saying, let's slow this down a bit and take a couple of steps back?

BOYD: No, we have to slow it down just because we have to make sure that, you know, we have the necessary items in place in order to make sure that our schools are going to open in a safe manner for our students, for our educators and for the communities in which they are in.

SHAPIRO: And what are the most important of those necessary steps? Give us the top few.

BOYD: We have to have deep cleaning and continuous cleaning on our campuses and buses, physical distancing in classrooms and other shared spaces, face covering, gloves, hand sanitizers. We have to make sure that we have special considerations to protect our students and staff with the compromised and underlying medical conditions. You know, it's also our school health services, including our nurses, to help our students, our families and our educators see (ph) safety.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. You know, to take just one of those items you listed - physical distancing...

BOYD: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Public schools in this country have a problem with overcrowding - you know, 30 kids to a classroom. That's the opposite of physical distancing. What do you do with that?

BOYD: Well, that's a good question. And that's where educators are going to be in the room helping make those decisions because they are the best ones that can actually, you know, help plan this out because they are in the classroom, and they can physically see the space they have and how to best utilize it. And we don't know what it's going to look like just yet.

SHAPIRO: Workers in other fields from meatpacking plants to grocery stores have complained that they are being told to work when it isn't safe. Are you hearing the same concerns from your teachers, your members?

BOYD: Well, our educators are concerned that we have to make sure, again, that we have the necessary items in place to protect them because their health and safety is the very most important thing that we are - we have to consider.

SHAPIRO: There is a big divide already in public education between wealthy and poor neighborhoods. When you're talking about all these new requirements that cost money, do you worry that the educational divide will grow?

BOYD: Well, you know, this - what happened with the COVID-19 has exacerbated the problems that we see in our society and in education in particular. You know, we do know that there is a great divide. And closing that - and this gives us an opportunity to actually examine those and to improve on those situations. So moving forward, we want to make sure that we address those issues and we are able to close those opportunity gaps that are there and that are present so that...

SHAPIRO: It sounds like...

BOYD: ...In the future, we won't have that.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like something that costs a lot of money, and we're in a time when states and the country all are already going deep into deficits for relief programs. Do you think the money is going to be there that you'll need?

BOYD: All I can do is be hopeful.


BOYD: We just have to make sure that our priorities are in place because, again, we are educating the future.


BOYD: And in order to make that occur, we have to have the funds in place in order to do so, you know? And maybe it's the time that we start thinking about having a dedicated funding source for education and not utilizing the Prop 98 as a end of all means.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Just in our last 30 seconds or so, are you concerned that if a second wave of infections hits when the economy starts to reopen, these schools are just going to have to shut down yet again?

BOYD: That might be a possibility, but that's where planning comes into place so that if a second wave does come and face us, we'll be prepared because that's going to be the main thing that we have to do is be prepared.

SHAPIRO: E. Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association and member of Gov. Newsom's recovery task force, thank you for joining us today.

BOYD: You're welcome. Thank you for having me again. Take care, and be safe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.