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By Chris Frost
Oxnard-- Ventura County District Five Supervisor Candidate and Oxnard Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez had a frank and open discussion with Karen Sher, President of the Oxnard Union High School District Board of Trustees July 10 about when and how and when the schools will open.
Sher gave a grim update and offered no concrete plans.
Ramirez gave the update via Zoom and said Sher is also a teacher and parent.
Sher was happy to participate in the conversation.
"Thank you so much for giving me a platform to talk about the health and safety of teachers," she said. "When we talk about how schools will reopen, not if, but when, but to talk about the health and safety of teachers is important. I don't hear a lot of people talking about that. Thank you, Carmen, for always being a supporter of public-school teachers and public schools."
Sher said when COVID-19 hit, it was a scary situation.
"There was about a hot minute where I thought that I might know more than everybody else, and I thought schools would close not just temporarily, but for a longer period," she said. "I remember feeling overwhelmed about the responsibility to protect everybody. My teacher peeps, students, my children, all of their friends, and everybody. It's a huge responsibility."
Sher works on a board full of educators and said they work together well and know what's best for the kids.
"When we knew there was a potential for everyone to get sick, we did what is best for kids," she said. "We followed the Ventura County Public Health Director's advice, and we worked closely with the state superintendent. Leadership matters when it comes to something like this."
The district was in the middle of hiring a new superintendent, she said, and that responsibility fell to Sher as board president.
"I was honored to be a part of that," she said. "It was a difficult time. Having my own children at home and having the responsibility of helping them with their schoolwork while teaching at the same time and also being a trustee is still overwhelming. I'm honored to serve in both those capacities."
Ramirez added that parents had to figure out what to do with their kids when COVID-19 hit.
"People had to scramble," she said. "Some people didn't have to go to work, but some people had to. Essential workers, healthcare workers, farmworkers, grocery workers, and our first responders, I think people responded well. "
As it sits right now, Ramirez feels that people are getting tired, and they want to open the schools and go back to normal.
Sher paraphrased the work of Anthony Cody from the National Education Policy Center and is a science teacher who said there are approximately 3 million public school teachers in the United States and about 1 million classified staff members.
"If we have 4 million adults that get exposed to possible infection, even if 10 percent get infected, that's 400,000 people," Sher said. "If 2 percent die, there are 8,000 people who will never teach and never work with children again."
She doesn't hear anyone talking about the health and safety of teachers.
"Of course, we always have the students' best interest in heart," Sher said. "We want to keep them safe and healthy, and we want to be here to teach them. That's what we do. We are professional educators."
She teaches class, and Sher wants to grow a generation.
"It's more than one generation," she said. "No one wants to be back in school more than teachers. The fact that teacher health and safety is not being talked about is troubling. It makes a scary situation even scarier."
Ramirez asked Sher when the schools will open, and Sher said the opening dates on the school calendar is a negotiated item from before the pandemic.
"In the elementary district, I can't say too much about what is happening in the way of plans," she said. "It's troubling to feel there isn't more of a plan in place since we are in the middle of July."
With the high school district, she said Dr. McCoy had been an amazing leader with regard to getting teachers on board.
"I'm a teacher leader for Stanford University for the Instructional Leadership Corps for the United States Library of Congress for the South Coast Writing Project out of UCSB (University of California Santa Barbara)," Sher said. "I do a lot of work with teacher leaders. One of the amazing things about Dr. McCoy, who was just named superintendent; he developed a plan for reopening schools. That came with the assistance of about 180 teachers. Given the opportunity and the planning, they jumped on board."
The high school district went from a semester to a quarter system, she said, and they're taking a smaller load of classes.
"Teaching six online classes are nearly impossible," she said. "They narrowed it down to quarters so kids can take a fewer number of classes throughout the year. That came with an agreement with the teacher’s union for doing what is best for kids. I feel like when schools reopen, we have a plan, either way. We are at the whim of the Ventura County Public Health Director. It's not looking good in Ventura County."
Ramirez added that she hopes that schools open based on science and not on a whim.
"We're counting on leaders to think about science and not just hopes and fears," she said.
The district is full of English learners with low income and no internet. Ramirez spoke with Trustee Denis O'Leary about getting better internet to the community.
"The Oxnard School District is doing a pretty good job about trying to get hot spots," she said. "It's something I hope the city and county can work on."
Ramirez asked Sher what it's like to teach students remotely, and Sher grimaced.
"It's hard to talk about that without getting a little bit emotional," Sher said. "We're in a grieving process for our jobs, our profession, and we want to be with them. We like to be in the classrooms. That's where the magic happens."
Sher called remote learning awful.
"It is scary," she said. "When students don't check-in, you can't for sure know why. In the high school district, we serve 17,000 plus students, and we have 16 percent of them who are homeless. That was before the pandemic."
This story will continue on July 24.