Sonoma County teachers gathered in their cars for a demonstration circling the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) on June 26, demanding safe social distancing conditions for the return to in-class instruction this fall. The event, also known as the Sonoma County Educator Caravan for Student and Community Safety, was organized by local union leaders and by the Sonoma County Educators Council (SCEC).

Brian Miller, a teacher at Analy High School in Sebastopol, said the event was organized in response to Sonoma County Superintendent Dr. Steven Herrington’s comments that if students over the age of 2 are wearing masks — as per the new state department of public health requirement — then perhaps six foot social distancing could be decreased to four-foot social distancing among students.

“This combined with reports we are getting throughout the state of districts proposing unsafe reopening plans, and it is clear we should not wait around and see what happens,” Miller said when asked why the demonstration was organized.

In a June 23 post on its Facebook page, SCOE said following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement about the new facial recovering requirement for public settings, Herrington would meet with Sonoma County Health Officer, Dr. Sundari Mase, to discuss the requirement in relation to schools.

“Dr. Herrington will also inquire whether there can be any flexibility around the six-foot distancing rule for children, similar to what the Marin County Office of Education has put forth in their guidance for reopening, in collaboration with their public health officer. Under this type of flexibility, if approved, students (as a lower risk group) might be allowed to be four to six feed apart, while adults would still need to maintain six feet as a higher-risk group,” the post states. “This flexibility could potentially allow some schools to run full-day programs to better serve their school community.” 

County teachers and union leaders at the Friday drive-by rally also said that teachers need to be part of the decision-making process when it comes to creating guidelines for school.

“Herrington was unilaterally thinking of changing the distancing from six-feet for elementary aged kids without consulting teachers, parents and students. He said he was thinking about reconsidering the four-feet social distancing, but the reason why we’re here is because teachers weren’t consulted,” said Ever Flores, the president of the Healdsburg Area Teachers Association.

During the caravan, Flores spoke with teachers from inside their cars and asked folks one by one if they had been consulted about the possibility of exploring four-foot social distancing in grades K-3.

As cars pulled up towards where Flores was standing with a red teachers union, “Red for Ed” flag, he asked one teacher from Santa Rosa City Schools, “Were you consulted about the safe reopening of schools?”

Over the din of horns honking, Flores reiterated the teacher's response, saying, “Of course not — he was not consulted.”

Miller said it’s important that SCOE recognizes that Sonoma County teachers need to be a part of the reopening process.

“SCOE needs to know that Sonoma County educators need to be heard and part of the decision making process on how to reopen schools. The SCEC is committed to the safety of students and teachers. I think the uncertainty and panic Herrington’s statements caused results from the overall conversation not being inclusive,” Miller said.

On June 25, SCOE reported that Herrington met with Mase and the Sonoma County Director of Health Services, Barbie Robinson, and agreed to continue with the six-foot social distancing standard for the start of the 2020-21 school year.

According to a June 25 announcement from SCOE, “They agreed to continue with the county’s evidence-based approach by maintaining a six-foot distancing standard at the beginning of the school year. After about a month of school being back in session, the health officer and the county superintendent will reconvene to look at the data and see whether a more permissive student distancing standard is supported by the data.”

In the statement, Herrington said that they must follow evidence-based guidelines to promote student and teacher safety.

"We must follow the evidence and the health-based guidance to ensure staff and student safety,” Herrington said. “SCOE is committed to working with all members of the educational community to assist school districts in making the best decisions for their communities and staff."

SCOE is planning a virtual town hall on July 8 for parents, staff and students, to discuss reopening. The town hall will start at noon at https://www.facebook.com/SCOESonoma/.

To view the SCOE county health statement on school guidelines, click here.

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