National City elementary teachers rally for safe school reopening

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NATIONAL CITY, Calif. — National City teachers Friday took part in a motor march for safety, demanding the National School District only reopen for in-person learning when it’s equipped to do so with procedures everyone can agree on.

Teachers and families were hoping to be heard by district leaders, honking as they drove by the district’s administrative office.

“National City, right now, is still in the red,” said Christina Benson, teacher and president of the National City Elementary Teacher Association. “We are a high case rate community.”

The union representing more than 300 teachers says a formal agreement with the district has not been reached.

Parents and administrators have faced an evolving and at-times conflicting set of recommendations from experts and public officials about when and how to reopen campuses.

The Centers for Disease Control has said some schools can bring kids back on campus safely, citing lower reported case and death rates among children. However, the agency only recommends opening in areas where there is not significant community spread of the virus, and where schools can be certain that precautions, including social distancing, face coverings and limiting activities, will be followed.

In California, counties must be in the state’s “red tier” for two weeks in order for campuses to be allowed to reopen. But the decision ultimately falls to individual districts to determine if and when to open.

Among the biggest concerns in National City are about supplying proper PPE to every staffer and student, enforcing social distancing and limiting contact for support staff who frequently see more than 100 kids each week, Benson said.

The National School District, which serves Pre-K through sixth grade, tentatively is set to return for some in-person learning on Oct. 19.

Superintendent Leighangela Brady said the district has spent nearly $500,000 on PPE for students and staff, and that classrooms will maintain proper distance between desks.

Still, many teachers hope the district follows the lead of other nearby districts in waiting until January to bring students back to campuses. Negotiations between the National School District and National City Elementary Teachers Association regarding a safe return are ongoing.

“National School District is the same way my own school district works — we both feed Sweetwater Union High School District,” said Michelle Gates, a teacher in the South Bay Union School District. “Sweetwater is waiting and so, for us to encourage our students to return and our families to send them doesn’t seem to be in keeping that structure.”

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