By Lee J. Kahrs
On July 25, Harwood Unified Union School District Superintendent Brigid Nease penned an open letter to parents and guardians and published it on the supervisory union website. It was covered by statewide press and shared widely on social media.
“Public school administrators are highly trained in what to say and when to say it publicly,” Nease wrote in her opening. “I find myself throwing a bit of that training aside as I write to you today.”
The superintendent went on to detail the myriad unanswered questions she has regarding everything from differences in each district’s plans to staffing concerns to childcare issues.
“So, we are told to reopen the schools,” Nease wrote. “That said, in most places, I think we are going to try to reopen school, and I think we will fail in ways that may have permanent, unrecoverable repercussions for our students, school systems, and community. And why am I making such a strong, worrisome statement? That is because this is a very significant statewide problem and it requires a significant statewide solution. The big elephant in the room is operational, having nothing much to do with the ‘how-tos’ of safely bringing students and staff into the building based on transmission of the virus and epidemiological science. It comes down to workforce and childcare issues that cannot be solved at the local level.”
Nease said superintendents all over the state are fielding letters of resignation, requests for leaves of absence, family medical leave, emergency family medical leave, emergency paid sick leave, exemption status, and leave under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of leave for employees unable to work because their child’s school is closed.
“The truth is most school employees are scared to death they will get sick (or worse), bring the virus home to loved ones, have a student in their care become ill, or experience the death of a coworker,” Nease wrote. “However, the even bigger reason for leave requests is the untenable position this state has put school employees in by creating homegrown reopening schedules that do not align,” she added.
She mentioned that many school employees have children who may attend school in another district. The state directive to school districts to chose their own education models makes it so neighboring districts offer different schedules. Then there is the question of childcare for pre-school age children and whether that will be available to working parents.
In closing, Nease said that while she feels the fear shared by many of the parents in her district she has personal reasons wanting to open the schools.
“My grandson who will be entering 4th grade and attends Thatcher Brook and I am so concerned and pained about his isolation and loss of learning,” Nease said. “I would give anything if I could just reopen these schools for all our children.”