Letter to the Editor: Keep Schools Closed, Stop Silencing Teachers
by Olivia Weisinger and Shannon Drichta
Comal ISD parents
(Editor’s note: Co-author Olivia Weisinger served on Comal ISD’s Student Health Advisory Committee for the 2019-20 school year. Her business, Rev Up Recess, designs functional play spaces and play strategies for schools. When the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring, she worked with Garden Ridge Elementary School, which her child attends, to come up with ideas for outdoor classrooms. Over the summer, while teaching online classes to San Antonio-area public school teachers through Education Service Center, Region 20, Weisinger noticed teachers seemed visibly upset about plans to deploy them back into classrooms despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the community. She later met Shannon Drichta, mother of Garden Ridge and Danville Middle school students who also is worried about reopening schools. Together they launched the Open Comal County Schools Safely Facebook page. Drichta spoke at last week’s Commissioners Court meeting while Weisinger picketed outside. Weisinger and Drichta surveyed 306 out of Comal ISD’s 1,500 teachers about their thoughts on reopening schools to on-campus education on Aug. 25 and received 216 responses. Their letter references a one-time Zoom meeting initiated by Comal County Judge Sherman Krause. He invited superintendents and asked public and private schools to each add one teacher and one parent to the call. Wesinger attended via Zoom on Wednesday, after being alerted by her husband, who heard about the meeting while working with New Braunfels Mayor Rusty Brockman. School officials at Garden Ridge Elementary and Danville Middle schools recommended Drichta for the Zoom meeting, but she was not added to the call list. Neither a video of the meeting or a transcript is available online, so MyCanyonLake.com fact-checked this article with Comal County’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Dorothy Overman who also said Gov. Greg Abbott has decided school reopening is determined by school boards, not the local health authority, and she can only offer advice. Dr. Overman added that contact sports are not recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) when the positivity rate is as high as Comal County’s, and that there also are risks with band and choir.
“An open letter to Comal ISD Supt. Andrew Kim and Comal ISD’s Board of Trustees:
It is with grave concern for our students, teachers, and communities’ lives that we write today. We have exhausted every other avenue to gain your ear and to help you in this endeavor for safe reopening plans. You have silenced and dismissed teachers, parents, and doctors who have any dissenting opinion of your plan by refusing to return phone calls or answer emails and to alter your school plans to be in line with the medical advice provided to you.
Last week you were advised by Comal County’s Director of Public Health Dr. Dorothy Overman that schools should not open until the test-positive rate is down to 5% (Comal is currently at 16%).
Further, you were advised that all children (including preschool) should wear a mask when open. You were educated on plexiglass and face shields not being enough and that masks are necessary. You were informed that close contact would include anyone in the school that had been in contact with a positive case for 15 minutes (because the masks we are wearing are not medical grade); meaning an entire class will need to quarantine for a full 14 days if someone tests positive.
Dr. Overman emphasized a full 14 days of quarantine is needed as she has seen cases come positive on day 14. You were also informed that by law you would need to report every positive case to public health for contact tracing to help indicate anyone else that might need to be quarantined. Last you were informed that electives such as band, choir, and contact sports should not be occurring at this time.
Mr. Kim, you cherry picked parents to give feedback at your meeting with Judge Krause. Last week, there were several parents waiting for a link to the meeting and were not given one. We recognized your shock when we spoke up with our concerns of the plan, as you had not expected us to be there. We heard the doctor’s advice to you (as detailed above) and we then watched as you gave CISD radio announcements the next day with none of the medical advice amended to your plan.
(Comal ISD Board of Trustees President) David Drastata, we sat in the meeting and noted you did not make a single comment. However, you were a witness to hearing the same medical advice. A few days later, we read your words as you advocated for schools to reopen on time.
The board has not had school board meetings since June 25 and does not have one on the books until after school starts. You are taking away the communities’ voice.
(Comal ISD Trustee SMD #7) Cody Mueller, as my representative on the board, you have lost my confidence and my vote. A man that cannot stand up to hear a parent’s concern with a respectful reply by call or email has no business sitting in as a representative. You have not represented us, as you are not even willing to listen.
We have heard from teachers who are fearful to speak out as their jobs have been threatened and they fear losing their certifications and retirements. Since the district has refused response or transparency, we conducted our own survey for teachers. Our preliminary findings show only 18% of teachers feel comfortable returning back to school and 6% plan on retiring or resigning.
While you have tried to silence us, you are pushing forward to reopen schools in an environment that is scientifically known to be a disaster. You have a school employee who recently passed away from Covid and you have yet to recognize his loss or your concern. Is that how you plan to handle all the lives lost after you open against medical advice?
We are demanding that schools stay closed to in-building until the positivity rate is below 5% (CDC recommendation).
We are demanding that the silencing of teachers (with threats of job loss) be stopped immediately and that teachers are given a voice and choice on when it is right for them to re-enter without repercussions on their contract.
We are demanding teachers receive better benefits. We want to know that they have the sick days needed to be paid if they have to take leave because their class is quarantined, they have Covid, or their family gets sick.
We demand better for our students, our teachers, and our community. The decisions that you are making will not only impact those in your building, but our entire community.
While we recognize the efforts that Comal ISD has worked to place safe measures in place, we also recognize the reality gap between what is necessary for safe return to school and what the community is able to provide. It is clear that it is not medically safe to open schools. Reopening schools will exponentially spread this virus; and our hospitals in Comal and Bexar are already at capacity. This means your decision is one that will cost lives or save lives.
While we respect this is a difficult decision for schools across the nation, Comal ISD’s lack of concern for teacher and parent input and communication is disturbing. It takes 70-80% for the community social distancing to get community spread contained. We have 34% high risk children in our district.
We can serve the community best by social distancing where we can and giving a soft opening for our most vulnerable. We need to make the right decision for our community together as each of our decisions affects the others. We need to rise together and do what is right for our community.”