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Teachers resist instructing from empty classrooms for safety reasons

In San Jose, teachers have been told they must teach in empty classrooms with few exceptions. One teacher, Taunya Jaco isn’t planning to return anytime soon, educating her students from home.

Jaco said she’s erring on the side of caution and her colleagues may do so as well. Her concern is that students may be left without teachers come the first day of school next week.

“There is a lot of a lot of anxiety,” said Jaco. “Everything seems uncertain.”

At a time, when Jaco should be preparing her lesson plan for next week when school starts, the 6th grade teacher at Hoover Middle School in San Jose can’t focus. The city’s largest school district is putting her in a tough spot.

“Am I going to choose between doing what I love professionally versus keeping the people I love safe personally,” said Jaco.

Jaco lives with her parents who are both high risk. She’s one of 1,600 teachers in the San Jose Unified School District. They were told to teach in an empty classroom to a computer while students learn from home.

Patrick Bernhardt is with the San Jose Teachers Association and said the school district may be overreacting.

“They definitely adopted a one size fits all situation,” said Bernhardt. “I think they are concerned about accountability. I think they have come under a lot of criticism of how distance learning went in the Spring.”

District officials said advantages to working in the classroom include WiFi connectivity and tech support. Shared common areas such as bathrooms will be thoroughly cleaned.

“We are committed to providing the best quality instruction possible on August 12,” said San Jose Unified Deputy Superintendent Stephen McMahon. “We know the best starting point for that is the classroom with all of the support.”

Jaco appreciates the safety precautions but said while they reduce the risk, they don’t eliminate it.

“I can always get another job but if I lose a family member, I can't get them back,” said Jaco.

Accommodations can be given to teachers who have medical and childcare needs. Jaco filed a request but said the process is cumbersome and tedious. She said it’s unclear when she’ll hear back.

Next week, she plans to teach remotely from home and she’s hearing from colleagues she may not be the only one.

“My deep fear and concern is that we are going to see a lot of educators at the very last minute just leaving for one reason or another,” said Jaco. “There’s going to be a lot of students who won’t have a teacher on the first day of school.”

Another issue is that teachers will be able to bring their children to work, who are age preschool and above. It could mean more people sharing common areas. This Thursday’s school board meeting is expected to be heated over this topic.