With low-income communities being ravaged by coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order for Los Angeles Unified School District to remain closed came as a relief for many teachers at Compton Unified.
However, despite Compton being a hotspot for Covid-19 cases and objections from the Compton Education Association, teachers are being required to teach from their physical classroom, leading to growing concerns for many teachers and students.
“It’s lonely,” said Mrs. G, a 22-year Compton Unified teacher who asked to keep her identity private out of fear of retaliation from the school district. “You don’t have the kids there with you and it’s not the same. It’s taking a toll on me. I’m starting to feel what other people are feeling; the depression, the emotions. It’s hard.”
The Compton Education Association has been negotiating with the school board and has hosted a car caravan, spoken at school board meetings, and has reached out to the community for support.
“Our union has consistently come to the negotiation table with a framework of choice, allowing teachers and counselors to decide whether or not they wish to put their lives at risk and come into the school site. But the only thing the district suggests is teaching from school,” said Mr. C, a 4-year teacher at Compton Unified who also asked to keep his identity private for the same reason. “Our union continues to go back and say ‘No, we don’t want this’ and yet, the district continues to ignore and mute teacher voices.”
Compton Unified believes that by allowing students to see their classrooms in the background, it will help create a more consistent learning environment even if they aren’t on campus. However, students have expressed that they don’t care where the teachers are located as long as they’re doing their job and are comfortable
“It’s something that you wouldn’t think would be that big of a deal but you can tell how uncomfortable teachers are when they’re teaching from campus and different admin pop into their rooms with no masks so they have to rush to put theirs on,” says Ty Young, a senior at Dominguez High School.
Jose Padilla, another senior at Dominguez High School feels the same way, “It’s silly how the district is attempting to recreate a traditional classroom environment when that is impossible in the middle of a pandemic. Instead, they should enforce distance learning...teachers are humans too and deserve to be treated as such.”
On Thursday, Sept 17th, Compton Unified released a negotiation update stating, “The District takes seriously the impact of COVID-19 on our employees and students and has been working hard to ensure that it has health and safety protocols established that are consistent with the guidance from the LA County Department of Public Health.”
Teachers were left with mixed feelings.
“What they (the district) actually do versus what they say they’re going to do is quite different. They’re not really abiding by their own policies at this moment in time,” said Mr. C.
The district had told the Compton Education Association that they would be provided with Lysol sanitizing wipes, the bathrooms would be cleaned every hour, classrooms would be sanitized daily, and nobody would be allowed into them. Teachers find that people can walk into their classrooms anytime they want, making them feel unsafe since they are going from one room to another.
“The only thing that [custodians] do is take out the trash. In the first two weeks of school, the district gave some custodians vacation time so my trash can hadn’t been emptied in four days. The district gave us a spray bottle with some chemical in it and a big industrial-sized roll of paper towels. We were told that everywhere we go, we have to wipe down everything we touch. So the district may say they do all this stuff, but with all this happening, we don’t trust them. They have not gained our trust.”
Ms. Perez, a teacher at Walton Middle School, expressed her frustration with the district’s failure to abide by their policies, “The district states that the bathrooms are being cleaned every hour or two, we know they aren’t. The bathroom had no soap for two days. If they can’t follow the policies now, imagine when kids get back. Teachers have tested positive already. The district isn’t being forthcoming with the truth, they are putting out lies.”
The Compton Education Association turns to the community for support and continues to push against the district’s requirement for teachers to conduct virtual instruction from school buildings and advocate for a choice, much like LAUSD. The teacher’s union in Los Angeles successfully bargained against the requirement to teach from their classrooms and gave teachers the option of returning to school if they choose to teach from there.
“Hopefully we can have more community input from students, parents, and community members because when teachers speak alone, the district chooses to ignore us. There’s a huge mental impact when it feels like the people who are supposed to be in charge are just forcing us to do these things that we know is not in the best interest of the teachers or anyone working at these schools,” explained Mr. C. Many teachers expressed the same feelings, including Ms. G.
With the CEA and the district’s negotiations leading to no solutions, teachers are left feeling dissatisfied and disappointed, some even deliberating seeking employment elsewhere.
Ms. G. shared her thoughts, “I’d like to quit, but unfortunately, I love teaching. I’ve been doing it since I was 18 and I just don’t see myself doing anything else.”
However Mr. C is hopeful, “It’s been my life’s goal to be a teacher in Compton Unified. I’ve never felt like leaving the district… For those of us who are out there doing it every day, something’s got to change.”