Education · Fresno

Autry, Bredefeld square off with Valley Children’s in call for schools to reopen

Fresno City Council members Garry Bredefeld and Mike Karbassi called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to allow schools to reopen for in-person instruction. 

Former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry and Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger joined Bredefeld and Karbassi at Fresno City Hall in the press conference, sharing their concerns about the need for returning to in-person instruction. 

“Those that don’t want to return to school or have medical problems shouldn’t be forced to,” Bredefeld said. “Just as those who want to return should not be forced to stay home. I support choice: parents’ choice, teachers’ choice.” 

Earlier in July, Newsom ordered all counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list to hold school online in a virtual setting, banning in-person instruction until they have been removed from the watch list for two weeks. 

Currently 38 counties are on the watch list, meaning over 90% of the state’s population does not have the choice to reopen schools for in-person instruction. 

“Teachers are essential,” Bredefeld said. “Let’s let them do what they do best, teach our kids and give them and our parents the choice to return back to school in the classroom. Those who don’t want to return back can participate in online learning. Those who do should be able to go back to school, because school is critical. 

What’s at stake is the overall well-being of our children, academically, socially and emotionally. We cannot afford for our children’s future a repeat of the failure of last semester.” 

Bredefeld called online learning – which was instituted on the fly by school districts in March as schools shut down due to the pandemic – a “complete abysmal failure” and stressed that the system leaves certain students behind. 

“Those with disabilities and special learning needs are being ignored through online learning,” Bredefeld said. “They’re not getting all the attention that they need from different teachers with IEPs.” 

Karbassi made his position clear: He is not demanding that schools open immediately. Rather, he wants to ensure the school districts have plans in place to accommodate questions, concerns and choices for students, parents and teachers. 

“I’m trying to ensure we’re prepared when we reopen,” Karbassi said. “School districts need to get it together. Some of them are failing to provide reassurance to educators that work is being done to get campuses ready for when we resume in-person instruction.” 

Karbassi praised Central Unified, saying the district has a detailed plan in place and has been responsive to the community. 

If any districts need help, all they need to do is ask, Karbassi said. 

“The city is here to help as a resource,” Karbassi said. “If a school district is having a problem getting face masks or PPE, all they have to do is ask. We’re here to help.” 

Bredefeld stressed his desire for schools to reopen is backed in data, citing a paper published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC reported that international studies have revealed low rates of infection between students and teachers if the proper precautions are followed. The full paper can be read here

Bredefeld also noted that there have been no reported COVID-19 fatalities in children in California. As of Wednesday, there have been 34,432 positive cases in the state for individuals in the 5-17 age group, none of which have died. 

Another group Bredefeld cited is the American Academy of Pediatric, an organization comprised of 67,000 pediatricians. 

The AAP released guidance and considerations for schools reopening, in which the organization said “all policy considerations for the upcoming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present in school.”

After the press conference, Valley Children’s President and CEO Todd Suntrapak released a statement disagreeing with the call to reopen schools. 

“Every judgement we make rests on a single disturbing reality that we cannot escape – and that is Fresno County has been determined to be an area with ‘high levels of COVID-19 community spread’ – a fact that we cannot ignore and which responsibly must drive every health decision we reach,” Suntrapak said. 

“Fresno County, along with six other Valley counties, are on the State watch list – singled out as unsafe for our communities’ 170,000 kids and 25,000 adult teachers and staff to return to school.” 

Suntrapak said children are at a real risk from COVID-19, and the unknown long-term health consequences from the virus is a risk he is unwilling to assume. 

As of July 27, Valley Children’s reported a 9.6% coronavirus positivity rate in children and has had patients range from three weeks old to 17 years old.

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.