#childsafety | West coast educators: Organize action to close schools!

An emergency meeting of the West Coast Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committees (WC-ERFSC) was held on January 8. During the meeting, educators, parents, students and workers discussed the dire situation along the West Coast at their schools and workplaces and voted to support the following statement from the committees:

The West Coast Educators Rank-and-file Safety Committees call on our fellow educators, school employees, parents, and students to organize to shut down in-person schools along the West Coast to stop the infection of millions of children and further community spread of COVID-19.

We support the wave of growing opposition and struggle among educators to the deadly reopening of schools across the US, including including teachers in Chicago, who had refused for the past week to return to in-person learning but are being forced back under pressure by the Chicago Teachers Union, and the hundreds of teachers in San Francisco and Oakland Unified School District teachers who engaged in sickouts last week, leading to the closures of multiple school sites in the district.

Teachers in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood march against the unsafe reopening of Chicago Public Schools last year [Credit: Twitter, @rcoppo1]

We also support the opposition growing among students, including thousands across the country who have engaged in walkouts and signed petitions against reopening. A major development came on Thursday, when students in New York City shut down dozens of public schools in a city-wide walkout.

As important as these first steps are, the critical question is coalescing these different struggles in an organized, nationwide movement against the herd immunity policies pursued by both parties, who are prioritizing profits over the lives and health of the population. The overriding aim in reopening schools is not concern for the learning environment of children, but warehousing children in the buildings so that their parents can go to work for the major corporations.

To build this movement, we call on educators to join with us and teachers across the country in building a network of rank-and-file safety committees at every school district, independent of the pro-corporate unions and both big business parties. These committees will provide the means for teachers to communicate with each other across the country, share information, plan joint action, counter the lying media narrative that schools are “safe” and that teachers are being unreasonable, and appeal for the broadest possible for support from the working class.

The situation is dire along the entire West Coast. In California, daily cases have surged past 100,000, and the test positivity rate is 22 percent, meaning even this enormous figure is likely a substantial undercount. The seven-day average of pediatric hospitalizations is 76 throughout the state, well over 60 percent higher than during the peak of the Delta surge. There have been 44 pediatric COVID deaths in California since the pandemic began and this number will rise significantly. On Friday, a child under five died in Orange County, and became the county’s third pediatric death. Elsewhere on the West Coast, Seattle Children’s Hospital reports that 21 percent of its pediatric admissions are COVID-positive.

No sooner have school districts reopened throughout the region than they have faced staffing massive staffing issues and student absenteeism due to the scale of infections. Los Angeles Unified School district recorded 65,000 positive cases out of 424,000 students and staff during baseline testing carried out before the beginning of classes. Thirty percent of students and staff had yet to be tested prior to schools reopening Tuesday. In Oregon, a 259 percent increase in overall cases prompted the closure of multiple schools throughout the state. In Hawaii schools, more than 1,800 educators were on sick leave Friday with 550 substitute positions unfilled.

The teachers’ unions around the country are working hand-in-glove with city, state and federal governments in forcing through reopenings in spite of massive opposition from teachers, students and parents. They are reprising the role they played in forcing reopenings last January, with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), once again, playing a central role.

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