DPS Considers "Plan B" for School Re-Entry; Education Action Team Responds

This morning, the People's Alliance Education Action Team submitted the following statement to the Durham Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education regarding the district's "Plan B" proposal for school re-entry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dear Durham Public Schools Board of Education, 

Thank you for putting together a Plan B proposal for DPS Students. In September, the People’s Alliance Education Action Team issued guiding principles for a safe, sound re-entry, viewable here. Many of these guiding principles are present and highly visible in this Plan B proposal, for which we applaud the district! However, our team feels that the reopening plan in its current form does not adequately meet the following specific guidelines: 

1) "Benchmarks for reopening should be made explicit to all stakeholders, and plans should be in place for a return to Plan C if benchmarks are exceeded while Plan B is in effect.” 

We all know that the caseload and rate of infection in our community has increased, meaning that the risk to the health of students and staff of reopening schools has also increased. What is the community infection rate benchmark or acceptable caseload for reopening schools for in-person instruction? What is the community or school/site infection rate benchmark for closing schools back down? We need to see published metrics ahead of time, and we need public commitment to adherence. 

2) “Any return to school should be on a volunteer basis for both teachers and students/families. Teachers should have the option to continue teaching remotely if they feel it is not yet safe for them to teach in-person.” 

How specifically will DPS respond to the following, inevitable situation: a teacher does not feel safe returning to in-person instruction, but the school needs her/him back in the building for Plan B staffing reasons? In neighboring districts, teachers have been forced to choose between their health and their employment. Dozens, even hundreds, have resigned or retired. Is DPS prepared for that possibility? 

3) “Teachers should not be asked to teach both online and in-person.” 

For the mental health of teachers as well as the online safety of students, it is not feasible to ask teachers to simultaneously teach online and in-person. A planning period in which teachers are responsible for supervising students is not a planning period. Please address how you will modify these elements of Plan B in its current form. Additionally, what is the decisive pedagogical advantage of a return to in-person instruction if all students will continue to receive instruction primarily through Canvas? Will Wednesdays continue to be protected planning for teachers? 

4) “The guiding principle of any reopening plans should be the safety of students, teachers, and staff.” 

How will the integrity of the cohorts be established and maintained? Will students be required to have a negative test before entering a cohort? What if the cohort-designated teacher is absent? Will substitutes compromise the integrity of the cohort? Will afterschool programs and bus routes compromise cohorts? How will contact tracing between students be handled/reflected in the dashboard? If a student misses their cohort in-person classes for any reason can they attend online for that day or will they be marked absent? How will DPS support the additional transition and lack of routine that Plan B asks of children and families? 

Until the above concerns are adequately addressed, the PA Education Action Team urges the School Board to vote NO on any plan that sends students and teachers back into schools for face-to-face instruction. 

Thank you for your hard work serving the needs of students, teachers, and families in our community. Thank you for making the difficult decisions during these extraordinary circumstances that first and foremost keep students, teachers, and families safe.

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