Natalie Landes

Two Carlsbad Unified School District teachers hold up a sign with the message “6 ft. apart, lots of heart.” Photo by Natalie Landes.

Teachers rally for safety precautions while reopening schools

The Sage Creek High School parking lot was the fullest it had been in months.

Over 300 teachers, dressed in matching black Carlsbad Unified Teachers Association (CUTA) t-shirts, gathered six feet apart outside of Sage Creek’s campus on Wednesday, Oct. 28 to advocate for a careful and safe reopening of district schools. Led by CUTA President and Hope Elementary School teacher Lindsey Gordon, the group voiced concerns over a November return to in-person classes and championed upholding safety precautions while reopening schools. 

“Teachers are out here today because they’re really concerned about the safety of Carlsbad,” Phil Martinez, an English and AVID teacher at Carlsbad High School, said. “Everybody wants to be back in school, but we want to make sure that it’s done safely.”

A rallier holds up a sign with the message “Please don’t make my high-risk wife return to campus before it is safe!” Photo by Natalie Landes.

According to Gordon, the safety precautions teachers would like to see include six feet of social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, and air filtration systems put in place in every classroom. To ensure adequate time is given to implement all of these safety measures, the teachers support reopening at a later date than the recently proposed Nov. 30. 

“We don’t yet have proper ventilation in all of our classrooms. We don’t yet have a plan for what happens when people get sick. We don’t even know if we have enough substitutes to cover the classes that are gonna need to quarantine,” Rachel Merino-Ott, the CUTA Vice President and a teacher at Sage Creek High School, said. “We want all of that to be in place before we even enter the classroom, and in order to do that, the district office needs time.”

The teachers also expressed a wish to return to in-person classes after the holiday season has passed, during which families will likely be congregating and travelling with their family members. Due to the unknown effects of this problematic time period, Merino-Ott supports reopening schools in January. 

“It’s safe, it waits until after all the major holidays, and any issues that might come from those major holidays, and then we can open up and stay open,” Merino-Ott said. 

A separate group, composed of parents advocating for holding in-person classes five days per week, also rallied outside of Sage Creek and has been organizing protests for over a month. Although the group mainly rallied away from the teachers, they marched through the teacher rally roughly 45 minutes into the event. The group questioned how teachers could engage in activities like grocery shopping but not teach in person at schools.

A protestor holds up a sign with the message “Learn from Vista.” After Vista Unified School District’s recent reopening, 429 students and 23 staff members became quarantined due to positive cases at district schools. Photo by Gracie Huebner.

“People are on airplanes, they’re in grocery stores, they’re shopping in Home Depot,” Jennifer Belnap, a participant of the separate rally and mother of three school-aged children, said. 

Yet teachers emphasized the difference between a bimonthly grocery store trip and teaching in a classroom multiple days per week. Despite the two seemingly opposing groups, the teachers stressed that the issue of getting children back into schools safely should not be a controversial one.

“Teachers are missing their students. We all want to be in the classroom,” Martinez said. “Everybody’s on the same page in that respect, so I hope that this isn’t something that’s divisive because we should all be united in getting students back in classes safely.”

In addition to stressing the importance of safety precautions when returning to school, the rally also celebrated teachers for their work educating students during a pandemic. 

“There are no weekends. There is no family time right now. We are giving it our all to our students because we love them and we put them first,” Gordon said. “We are extraordinary teachers, giving an extraordinary education, in extraordinary times.”

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