South End Public School Staff to District: Don’t Reopen Without Vaccines

by the Staff of Dearborn Park International School

In response to the recent unilateral announcement by Seattle Public Schools (SPS) that they intend to reopen pre-K/kindergarten/first grade for in-person instruction beginning in March, the staff of Dearborn Park International Elementary School came together for a series of conversations to share our thoughts and concerns about this proposal. The conversations involved the majority of the staff — dozens of staff members over multiple days and included classroom teachers from every grade as well as specialists, instructional assistants, secretaries, and other staff.

We were especially concerned that SPS has not been clear in their communications to families and staff. The decision to reopen schools is not yet official and will have to be negotiated with the Seattle Education Association (SEA) first — there currently is no actual plan in place that would meet the needs of the impacted schools.

We decided to write a letter to the leadership of our union, the SEA, in hopes of emboldening their resolve to stand up to SPS’ premature decision to reopen schools at a time when the pandemic is still raging out of control. Ultimately, we wanted to share this letter with the wider public to ensure that the voices of educators from a South End school are heard on this important issue — not only voices from other parts of the city.

Our students, families, and staff are part of a diverse community — Black, Native, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, white — but we share a common determination to keep us all safe during this public health crisis. Every one of us would rather be teaching in person, but until we can return to school in a way that minimizes the risk to children, the multi-generational families they live with, the staff, and our own families, we will speak out strongly against any attempt to rush back into school!

January 8, 2021 

To Whom it May Concern: 

We, the staff of Dearborn Park International School, are in collective agreement that we will not return to the building until there is widespread vaccination. We should not put people’s lives in danger. To downplay the danger of COVID-19 is irresponsible and dangerous for our community. 

We are counting on the SEA to advocate for and protect us as well as communicate clearly with families while negotiations are underway. That said, we see no reason to negotiate a new agreement at this time. There is not a clear plan to protect all individuals involved. Asking students and teachers to return to buildings is not safe. Until teachers have been vaccinated and there is a testing protocol for all who enter our buildings to protect those who have not been vaccinated, we will not work in the buildings. 

Educators put students’ learning and well-being at the forefront of our work. It is highly inappropriate to ignore the layers of trauma that all families and staff have experienced this year. This change will disrupt student learning and routines they have already developed with their current teachers. Completely uprooting the routines, schedules, and hard work that have been created for online learning this year and demanding that educators rework everything with four months left will cause huge levels of stress and anxiety. Working under high levels of stress and anxiety will affect classroom educators’ capacity to engage students in high-quality education. Educators’ own mental health directs classroom interactions. Not knowing whether we are doing enough to keep our community safe is not in the best interest of young children, staff, or families. To return to in-person learning would negatively impact Dearborn Park’s dual language learning model, effectively ending it. 

The downsides of returning to the buildings outweigh the positive outcomes, especially with only three to four months of school remaining in the year with the District’s plan of starting on March 1. The transitions to the building, including new safety protocols added on top of normal routines in the classroom, will take at least a month to be established. This will take even more time out of our students’ instruction that has already been so disrupted due to the pandemic. 

We will wait in solidarity for clear communication and agreement between the SEA and the District. In the meantime, we will continue to safely provide education as currently agreed upon between both parties.


The Staff of Dearborn Park International School 

Featured image by Sharon Ho Chang.

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