motor march poster
Chula Vista Educators, the union representing educators in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, organized a motor march to garner support for increased public education funding and safe reopening of schools. Image via Twitter @chulavistaeducators.

Teachers wary of returning to the classroom took to the streets Monday in Chula Vista calling for safety measures and funding they say are needed to allow schools to safely reopen in a region of the county particularly hard hit by COVID-19.

The “Motor March for Schools” was part of the National Day of Resistance organized by teachers unions to demand safe, equitable schools amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  According to the Chula Vista Educators, the teachers association representing educators in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, more than 200 vehicles drove the march route from the Sears parking lot on Broadway to Otay Ranch Mall.

The protest included educators and supporters from at Chula Vista Educators,  the National City Elementary Teachers Association, which is the bargaining unit for educators in the National City District, and South County Teachers United.

As the new school year approaches, teachers unions across the country have been vocal with districts developing safety procedures, and advocating that state and federal governments step up with money to implement safe reopening plans and fund additional supports for distance learning.

“Unfortunately, the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic is causing our students to face inequities in the academic and social-emotional supports at the time when they deserve more, not less,” said Susan Skala, present of Chula Vista Educators. “Our schools are in the position to provide these supports only if there is an increase in federal and state funding for schools.”

The march came as the Sweetwater Union High School District became the first district in San Diego County to start the new school year Monday with students learning from home full-time through Oct. 2. With about 39,000 students, SUHSD is the state’s second largest secondary school district.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District will start its school year Aug. 31 with a distance learning format while working with local health officials to transition to in-person instruction.

The district and teachers union are currently over what a reopened school will look like and negotiating the precautions that will be put in place. Key demands include proper ventilation, rigorous testing and tracing, social distancing, personal protective equipment, daily cleaning and training for custodial staff.

The National School District is also at the bargaining table with its teachers union working on an agreement for the new school year.

The district’s  trustees approved a safe reopening plan at the July 21 board meeting. The fall semester will start Aug. 24 with distance learning for the district’s 5,200 students. When teachers and students are back in the classroom, approved safety measures include face coverings for students, face shields for staff, hand sanitizers in all rooms and common areas, touchless paper towel dispensers, and portable acrylic barriers to provide a shield against germs.

Teachers were joined by parents concerned about schools safely reopening.

“We can’t open our school buildings until it’s safe,” parent Matthew Baker said. “But our kids also much have access to a robust experience, and that requires further investment in schools.”

— This story was updated at 6:48 p.m. Aug. 3, 2020.