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Westminster Schools starting classes with in-person learning Thursday despite teachers' concerns

District says families can choose between in-person, remote learning
Posted at 5:11 PM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 21:06:05-04

WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- Westminster Public Schools is set to open its doors to students for in-person learning Thursday, and while district officials say the plan they have in place focuses on keeping everyone safe amid the pandemic, some teachers say going back to in-person learning feels rushed and unrealistic due to COVID-19.

Wanting to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, one Wesminster Public Schools teacher is concerned the district’s decision to return to in-person learning could have serious consequences.

"I think that they are reopening for financial and political reasons. My biggest worry is that someone will die, that a student will die, or God forbid, that a student ends up inadvertently passing on COVID-19 to a family member," the teacher said.

Pamela Swanson, the Westminster Public Schools Superintendent, says the district's back-to-school plan prioritizes safety and gives families options.

"We’re offering families two options: One is to come back in person, and also another option for families who aren’t quite ready for that so they can have their students learning online," said Swanson.

They’ve also mandated masks for everyone on school property, are distancing desks in the classrooms to maintain proper social distancing between students and staff, and are doing temperature and symptom screenings.

"I think everyone is just a little nervous. I mean, this is something that’s unknown for everyone but what we keep going back to is, we believe we have a really good plan," Swanson said.

But it’s not only nerves giving teachers pause.

"I think very little has gone into teacher safety, they don’t seem to care what we think," said the teacher.

So much so that some have resigned.

One teacher wrote to Denver7 saying:

I made the difficult decision to resign from WPS because i truly felt i had become a pawn in a political game. Not once were teachers asked how we could be impacted by the decision to return. The decision was made by people who are never in the classroom. I was literally being asked to sacrifice my health and the health of my family for my job. When there was a safer option: remote learning. Weeks before resigning, I was already struggling with debilitating anxiety and depression over the thought of contracting this virus and dying, or spreading it to my children. Since I resigned, the anxiety and depression have disappeared. I know I made the right decision. But it is still frustrating because I see that other states that opened up schools, are failing miserably. I believe that is exactly what will happen in this scenario and I don’t understand why educational leaders aren’t using science and data to make decisions. Our Westminster community will be impacted greatly. The majority of students live in multi-generational homes and do not often have access to health insurance due to their documentation status. Going to the doctor is something that is often avoided at all costs for the fear of immigration reporting. The reality is that students will not be tested, they will be infected and still show up to school. All of this is avoidable. The community is not demanding school return in person. I cannot tell you how often high schoolers do NOT come to school because they need to babysit younger family members, translate at appointments for their parents, or work to provide for their families. Many students have commented on how lucky they feel to be able to do all of the above and NOT miss school with a virtual option. All this goes to show that the superintendent and school board are making decisions that best fit their agenda. They are not thinking about the community or teachers.

The president of the Westminster Education Association, Frances Groff-Gonzales, said based on a survey taken earlier this month, a majority of educators thought in-person learning was a bad idea.

"The respondence of our survey were that 65% of our teachers were uncomfortable with going back but then that was before. We haven’t done another survey, that was before they actually got back into the schools and saw what the school plans were," said Groff-Gonzales.

District officials said students will have a two-week grace period to change between online and in-person learning as soon as school starts.

They also said they’re ready to change their plans if the health of students is in jeopardy.