Caitlin Melgar/Courier Students of Pasadena City College walk around the campus without masks, and some less than six feet away from eachother, on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, about two years before the move to strictly online-learning. Some school campuses have reopened, but campus life is different with the implentation of Covid-19 specific rules, such as mask and social distancing mandates.
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In the midst of the worst healthcare crisis in over a century, Pasadena is facing a critical decision with potentially grave consequences. Political motives and financial pressure are triggering a possibly ill-advised reopening of schools.

The Pasadena Unified School District has recently decided to return to classes by April 1st, only two months before the closure of schools for the entire year. This move is clearly attempting to assuage concerns by a minority of parents of kids in Pre-K to second grade.

A small, but loud group of parents has organized an effort to exhibit all the damage the past 12 months of remote learning has inflicted on their children. Persistent protests have taken place to question the district’s insistence on waiting longer to reopen schools. They stood by City Hall carrying “Save our students” signs with their children by their side.

They claim that their children are being harmed socially. Erika Foy, a mother with a daughter in high school, is the Pasadena resident who helped organize the protest.

“It’s lonely…They spend a lot of time on their phones. It can’t go on,” Foy said.

Likewise, councilwoman Felicia Williams calls for reopening on grounds of facing reality: “We can all live in fear or we can look ahead and find a way forward.” Another Council member, Andy Wilson, went as far as to state the following to add to the return case, equating teachers to a “higher calling.”

Notwithstanding these arguments, those in the trenches at schools, teachers, the so-called “higher calling” workers, argue that conditions are not right for a fast return to in-person teaching.

What is behind this urgency to open is an economic incentive by the State to districts that open by the 1st of April; PUSD is earmarked to receive $5.7 million, which is translated to losing $51,000,00 for each day it postpones reopening. Clearly, this poses a moral dilemma for decision-makers within the District.

“Reopening is not a process which should be rushed when the health and safety of thousands of people are at stake,” Dr. Allinson Steppes, President of United Teachers of Pasadena, said.

It is clear that both sides present a particular moral preference to the political and healthcare side of the dilemma. On one hand, a small and vociferous group of parents that want to return to face-face instruction with support from some Council members. On the other hand, the teachers who are prioritizing the lives of their students and respective families over expediting the return to in-person learning.. Despite the greatest danger to their own person, these leaders recognize the risk students run of catching the virus and transmitting it to parents who may not be as fortunate as those few who are clamoring for immediate reopening.

In-person return would only be for less than two months before school closure, including one week for Spring break. Also, it would take at least two-three weeks to get adjusted to being in school again. Furthermore, teachers would run a two-ring circus as they would continue to teach more than half of their students remotely. Finally, the last two weeks of schools, with tests, promotions, and graduations, would also be lacking academic rigor.

Not to mention, the danger posed to many parents, especially those of color, would be immense, as most of them would probably not be fully vaccinated before the end of May.

Consequently, it would behoove all stakeholders involved to act responsibly during the next 10 weeks, for doing otherwise, as optically convenient as it may be, would be extremely lamentable in terms of further human losses.

Our community college, PCC, is clearly a microcosm of the City of Pasadena. Therefore, the same responsible considerations should be applied when deciding to return to in-person learning.

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