CUSD discusses returning to in person learning

Exploring parents, teachers and board members’ reaction to CUSDs reopening plan


A twitter user captures an image of a CUSD parent in support of returning to schools.

Lance Tong


“Insults to our intelligence.”


These phrases were all used by parents and directed at board members during a Feb. 26 CUSD board meeting. Parents said that the CUSD board members are “ignoring the State and County reopening guidelines” and the comments of parents who would like to send their kids back to school” as CUSD begins the reopening process among heated debate.

Meanwhile, teachers and their union, the California Education Association (CEA), raised concerns over the health and safety of teachers returning to school. Both sides met during the board meeting, and charged language, including calling the other party “idiots” and “bullies,” was used.

The CDC allows individual districts to make reopening decisions but encourages all schools to reopen, even without teacher vaccinations. The CDC has said that the schools can mitigate the risk of COVID-19 using face shields, social distancing and mask wearing. The Feb. 26 CUSD board meeting encapsulated a larger debate in the community on how and when students should return to in-person school. 

CUSD’s current plan for reopening is to limit class sizes and split students who want to return into groups. Students would return for around 75 minutes two days a week. The plan hinges on an agreement with the CEA. According to the Recall CUSD Board Members group, about 40% of CUSD parents are unhappy with the proposal, such as Cupertino resident Val Ryabov, who is arguing for a four day school week with six hours a day return.

The CEA agreed to reopen on two conditions: Santa Clara County either entering the orange tier or entering the red tier and vaccinating all teachers with an additional two week waiting time after the second shot, despite the CDCs recommendation.

“If we’re going to go back in the red tier, [I want] to make sure all of my teachers have adequate time to have both shots and vaccinations as well as the CDC recommended waiting period so that the body builds immunity,” Kaid Brown of the CEA said.

Board member Phylis Vogel says that the CUSD board is taking a conservative approach to returning to school.

“I think it’s really important for all of us to get kids back in school, but I’ve heard some horror stories,” Vogel said. “I’ve got some friends in Florida whose kids are back at school and they get reports weekly about outbreaks of COVID-19 in their school — I don’t want that.”

Ryabov says that the board should not be relying on their own guidelines but rather the CDC guidelines that encourage a return to schools. Ryabov argues that the board is “playing God” and “reinventing science” in order to please the union who he believes is delaying reopening.

Brown disagrees and says that the union isn’t delaying in order to keep schools closed. Instead, Brown says that the teachers union has made concessions to allow for reopening to happen. 

With these concessions, Vogel says that she is on board with the current plan. Eventually, she hopes the board will expand it’s guidelines to allow for students to return for a longer school day.

In a speech during the board meeting, Brown argued that the reopening was occurring at the risk of teachers.

“We know they’re bullying the board and administration into rushing reopening,” Brown said during the meeting. “I ask those parents, is Google making you come back to work? They, like so many other employers in the Bay Area do not, because they care about [their workers’] welfare and safety.”

“We are doing our job, We are bending over backwards, working more hours than we have [ever] worked this whole time. My husband has told me that he doesn’t remember me working this much. I work mornings to evenings just to try and get ahead of myself in the next day’s work.”

— Kim Silva Beltran

Ryabov called Brown’s speech, “frustrating, upsetting and infuriating,” and the use of the word “bully” enraged some parents. 

“If advocating for our children by rallying or sending messages is being a bully, then I’m a bully,” one commentor said.

Murdock Portal Teacher and parent Kim Silva-Beltran argued that parents embracing the word bully and other insults was disheartening. 

“It was sad how people were put as if they were divided into sides,” Silva-Beltran said. “People were arguing against each other. I know a teacher said, ‘let’s remember to have kindness, let’s remember what we teach our children’ both in the classroom and out of the classroom. Treating each other with kindness and listening to each other. Listening with a positive mindset and working together to solve this problem.”

However, Silva-Beltran says that she was also not happy with some of the parent comments, saying that parents did not feel teachers were doing a good enough job in distance learning.

“We are doing our job,” Silva-Beltran said. “We are bending over backwards, working more hours than we have [ever] worked this whole time. My husband has told me that he doesn’t remember me working this much. I work mornings to evenings just to try and get ahead of myself in the next day’s work.”

Frustrated parents took to the streets and held rallies, including one on March 15, demanding students go back to school as soon as possible. When the Board of Education continued its conservative reopening process, parents initially demanded the recall of Vogel and board member Lori Cunningham. 

“I will absolutely pay attention to [the recall effort], but I’m not afraid of it” Vogel said. “I’m not worried about it — I believe we have a lot of support in the community. I’m just going to watch it and let the chips fall as they may.”

Cunningham was not reachable for comment. In a statement, the board acknowledged parent frustration over the reopening situation:

“[The board] understands and hears the frustration from parents who need the district to reopen schools for in-person learning now. Our goal is working for what is best for all students while balancing the needs of everyone in our plans … In reviewing the proposed schedule, the Board also asked for an increase in learning hours when we transition into [in person learning or] Phase 3. The staff is working on bringing a revised plan back to the Board at the March 11 board meeting.”

Additionally, the notice of intention to recall was denied by the Santa Clara County office of Elections as the statement served to Cunningham was different than what was served to the city. According to Cunningham, the statements in the letter of intention were changed after the signatures were obtained, therefore, invalidating the intention. 

Ryabov says at the end of the day, he had hoped for a different result from the board meeting, but was not surprised that the Board didn’t change its position.

“I called into this meeting, I didn’t have any illusions,” Ryabov said. “I hoped that we would have had a different outcome. But realistically, if I was a betting person, I would never bet on it.”

The Recall CUSD team did not want to comment on the board meeting, but did say that “the level of vitriol in some of the comments is eye opening.”

Brown says that the accusations and arguments are a sign that many care about their children and are frustrated by the pandemic.

“It shows that a lot of parents are very frustrated,” Brown said. “I think that a lot of people are getting COVID weary. I understand, myself, because I do have a son in distance learning as well … Oftentimes people feel very strongly about their children. It’s one of the things we [parents] care about the most.”

“Right now, there is absolutely no reason, no scientific data to keep kids at home,” Ryabov said. “And on the contrary, there is a lot more negative, dangerous impact to kids … From being kept in distance learning and isolation, there are a lot of things that are missing out, both academically and socially and psychologically, and there is no reason why it should continue this way.”

CUSD Board Mtg 2-25-21 from Cupertino Union School District on Vimeo.