After a seven hour meeting, the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education voted 5-2 to resume the process of opening classes for PreK-2 students on March 29, with Board Members Michelle Richardson Bailey and Tina Fredericks voting against the resolution.
Pre-K and kindergarten students will return to class on Tuesday, March 30 and first and second graders will return on Thursday, April 1. Students in grades 3 to 5 will return April 13.
“We believe it’s time to return our students to in-person learning,” said Superintendent Brian McDonald.
The district plans to hold a town hall meeting on the next steps in the process.
The board received nearly 100 letters on the subject, the majority of them from teachers concerned for their safety urging the district to keep schools closed.
“There has also been a growing concern that Pasadena Unified School District is not reporting the positive cases that occur on the campuses to Pasadena Public Health,” said Jonathan Gardner, who works as a physics teacher at Pasadena High School in correspondence to the district. “This is a disturbing precedent, one that does not bode well to how our District might handle outbreaks that might occur in the coming months. It erodes the trust that our community, parents, students and staff need to feel that what can be done is being done to keep their children safe.”
According to one letter, some teachers are so concerned about their well-being that they are considering exhausting sick leave and taking leaves of absence.
“Those concerns are real,” said Superintendent Brian McDonald. “I understand how everyone feels, but this is what we are hired to do, make the tough decisions. We try to do what is best for our students and our staff as well.”
“We need to work with our labor partners and make sure they are assured we will keep them safe.”
High schools can reopen once the county maintains a ratio of 7 infections per 100,000 people.
On Tuesday the state reported a case count of 7.2 per 100,000
The student must open its doors to K-2nd grade students before April 1 in order to get its share of $2 billion promised by Gov. Gavin Newsom. In total, the legislature passed $6.6 billion in aid to California schools.
All told, students will get less than eight weeks of in-person learning before the summer break begins on June 3.
Half of the district 2400 employees have now been offered the vaccine. It was not immediately known how many of those employees are teachers.
The plan mandates, among other controls:
Fewer students on campus at one time
Completing daily temperature and symptom checks for all students and employees reporting to schools and district sites
Requiring and providing all necessary face coverings and personal protective equipment
Adding handwashing and hand sanitizer-dispensing stations added on campuses
Conducting enhanced daily cleaning and disinfecting protocols each evening
Reconfiguring classrooms to maintain physical distancing
Installing plexiglass barriers for teachers at their workstations/desks.
According to the PUSD announcement, all classrooms are equipped with commercial-grade air purifiers designed for 24/7 smart air cleaning for enclosed shared air environments, and filters on air conditioning units have been upgraded to MERV 10 filters, rated for hospital and laboratory use.
On Wednesday School Board Scott Phelps President told Pasadena Now that he believed the safety protocols would keep students safe.
“I believe the vaccinations of now the great majority of our PreK through 8th-grade staff thanks to the pilot program provided by the Pasadena Public Health Department and Huntington Hospital has increased the safety of our staff tremendously.”
As of Monday, teachers and other essential workers, such as food service workers and law enforcement officials, were eligible for shots. More vaccine doses will be put aside for teachers. On March 15, everyone 16 and over with a serious underlying health condition will become eligible for vaccination.
Students have been learning from home since the pandemic began last March.
“PUSD must fulfill its commitment to the community and its staff by ONLY moving forward with physically reopening schools when it has fully prepared and has made sure that trust, transparency and integrity are at the forefront,” Gardner said.
“As a department chair, as a teacher, and as a father, I ask that you do what is right for our students as well as for the teachers and staff that help make sure our students get all they need to receive a world-class education.”