Manteca Unified workers whose homes could be in the path of the wildfires burning through the Diablo Range are being allowed to work from home today.
That, however, isn’t good enough for Manteca Educators Association leadership that contends it is too risky for any teacher to be required to work from a classroom due to COVID-19 and now the smoke and soot from the wildfires.
In an email sent to teachers Thursday, MEA President Ken Johnson noted “The air quality is Level 5 which is the worst air quality and recommendation is not to be outside, so we’re at school and have to go to the bathroom or walk in from our car? Ticked off yet?”
It is the latest move in the MEA’s bid to pressure the school board to give teachers the choice to work from home.
The district has taken the position the remote learning process is more robust and better supported — with additional education resources as well as an IT staff dedicated exclusively to the needs of 24,000 students and 1,200 teachers as opposed to having to reach out to Comcast customer support — when conducted from the classroom.
Manteca Unified District Superintendent Clark Burke directed site administrators to allow any staff — teachers or classified workers — that live within areas threatened by the cluster of 20 fires dubbed the “Santa Clara Unit Lightning Complex” to work from home.
District spokesperson Victoria Brunn noted principals are also being asked to remind all school workers that have health conditions the smoke and soot make more precarious to use the “interaction dialogue procedure” that allows those with health conditions such as chronic asthma to seek accommodations such as to work from home on a temporary basis. Thirty teachers have taken advantage of that procedure due to underlying health conditions that put them at a greater risk from potential COVID-19 exposure.
On Thursday Johnson also sent MEA members details of their next work action the union is taking.
Teachers are being asked to email the parents of their students to explain what the district is making them go through by requiring them to teach distance learning from classrooms instead of their homes. Johnson also is asking teachers to explain how that is impacting their students as well.
The teachers will be asking parents to send emails directly to Burke and the school board.
“Tell your parents that those people (Burke and the school board) are the ones preventing us from having the choice to work from home,” Johnson notes in the email.
While Johnson told MEA members “your story is powerful enough as it is”, he offered some points teachers could bring up in communicating with parents:
* “It isn’t safe to reopen schools right now. We have had several cases of COVID at school and over 40 staff quarantined. We also have plenty of staff not wearing masks on campus. If it is unsafe for kids to be at schools, but it’s okay for teachers?
*“Sharing 3 bathrooms with 80 or more staff?
*“A recent survey of our teachers showed that 82% of you want the choice to work from home or school.
*“The district wouldn’t have to pay for the air conditioning for 1,200 classrooms — doubling the electrical demand on an already strained electric grid.
*”The face masks purchased are unsafe, there are no wipes, and no hand sanitizer in classrooms.
*“The internet connectivity issues.”
The district has repeatedly stressed they have a wide array of COVID-19 protocols in place and are meeting county and state health mandates. They also have noted the face masks being used have been determined to be safe by county and state health officials.
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