Novato teachers oppose hybrid learning plan at rally

Novato teachers rallied Tuesday evening, expressing opposition to a proposed hybrid learning plan during the pandemic.

A few dozen teachers and their supporters spread across the lawn outside school district headquarters downtown.

Only a few hours earlier, the 400-member union voted down an agreement that would have opened the door to the first classroom instruction during COVID.

"They can't get behind the hybrid model, they just don't believe it's the best path forward," said Mariah Fisher, President of the Novato Federation of Teachers.

School administrators across the Bay Area are wrestling with how to come back, and when, knowing that whatever path they choose, some will be unhappy.   

"Teachers are asked to be online teachers and in-person teachers, often at the same time," complained Janna Morbitz, a former NUSD teacher who has twin second-graders in the district.

"And we would have three different schedules because they will be remote one day, in class two days, and expected to learn completely independently with no supervision two days a week."

Many private schools have managed to move forward with a hybrid model.

By staggering arrival times and rotating class sessions, they create cohorts of students who switch between campus and home to limit coronavirus risk.

But Novato teachers were uneasy that some cohorts at higher grades could number in the hundreds.

They prefer a slow and limited return to school, preferably after the first of the year. 

"We would have to be zooming with a mask on to the students at home," said Fisher, "and we cannot be in two places at once, that's not going to work." 

Honking their car horns, and encouraging honks from passersby, rally organizers hoped their rally noise would be heard in  district offices.

Superintendent Kris Cosca was inside, taking part in a virtual board meeting.

Beforehand, he expressed disappointment that teachers rejected the MOU.

Cosca insisted the process is not being rushed and there is no reason for alarm.

"What I've said is we will return to campus no sooner than October 4th, and when we can do so safely, but there is no deadline to return by a certain date."

He notes, no one wants to rush back and regret it later.

"We are definitely not talking about returning kids to on-campus learning during this meeting tonight, and I think this reaction is just a sign of the stress communities are under these days."

Teachers say students are feeling the stress too.

"They feel lonely, they feel isolated like I do, like we all do, but they are scared to go back," said Grace Cosentino, who teaches 8th grade science.

Cosentino became emotional discussing the uncertainty everyone feels.

"I feel this deeply because these students are such a part of my life, they give me purpose," said Cosentino, "and to see their distress, I want to be their voice, I want what's best for them right now."