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Teachers split on idea of returning to classrooms to teach while students learn virtually

A teacher in the Manteca Unified School District isn't excited at the idea of teaching from an empty classroom, while a teacher in Natomas can't wait to get started.

MANTECA, Calif. — One size doesn't fit all. 

At the Manteca Unified School District, teachers are pushing to make it optional for them to return to campus before school starts next week. Although students will start the school year learning online, the district is requiring all teachers to return to school grounds on early to prepare for the first day of school on Aug. 6. 

April Petrey, French Camp middle school science teacher, says the distance learning model will force her to adapt her teaching since she'll be confined to a computer screen. She says she also has to balance keeping her students and family safe, so the traditional classroom isn't part of the equation. 

"Why am I in the classroom, just so it will look like a classroom, coming in contact with other people that I don't need to come in contact with to possibly bring it home to my mom?" Petrey asked. 

The Manteca Unified School District said the decision is meant to provide consistency in what will be an unpredictable school year. A district spokesperson said in a statement that the district believes "the classroom, and all of the resources provided in the classrooms, are part of the teachers’ arsenal of tools to educate. In a year where we are likely to transition between distance and resident learning, the consistency and social-emotional connection for children is much greater and more powerful when teachers are able to rely on their resources."

The spokesperson went on to say the district has invested over $1 million in "face shields, cloth and surgical masks, Plexiglas barriers, hand washing stations, protective over garments, hand sanitizer, foot operated trash cans."

Petrey argued, with students online, her lab is rendered useless because they can't touch the supplies, adding that when she was recently on campus, she did not see extra supplies except for an empty hand sanitizer bottle on the wall.

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Jon England, a teacher with Natomas Unified School District High School, was initially hesitant to be back on campus at NP3 Charter High School. He said returning to work on Monday, July 27, for professional development and seeing former students working at his local grocery story helped him change his mind. 

"Education is an essential need, and if they can get up and go to the grocery stores, I can get up and teach in an empty classroom," England said. 

By being in the classroom, England said it shows his students who are logging on that it's still school, despite being virtual. He added that meeting with colleagues was reinvigorating, even from a distance.

"[It] kind of got me ready to be back in that school mode," England said. 

While he said he hopes teachers will come around to the idea, he understands not all teachers will be comfortable. In his district, he says teachers can opt out with a doctor's note.

The situation varies across districts and counties. After pushback from teachers, Lodi Unified School District reversed course and is giving teachers the choice to work from home or school. Petrey hopes, Manteca does the same thing.

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