More than 100 Manteca Unified teachers showed up outside of the district’s administrative complex on Louise Avenue Tuesday morning to send a message that they’re not okay with being forced into a classroom — even without students — during a global pandemic when they believe teaching from home works just as well.
Unified under the banner of the Manteca Educator’s Association, the group – wearing masks and standing six feet apart to take up the entire plaza outside of the building and a portion of the adjacent parking lot – clapped and cheered to signal to the administrators inside the building that the requirement that teachers be in the classroom and possibly sharing a classroom with others is not something that they’re in favor of.
Manteca Unified starts school on Aug. 6 with distance learning in place. As COVID-19 conditions allow and clearance is given by the county health department, students will migrate to a blended leaning model with 50 percent of them on campus at any given time.
According to MEA President Ken Johnson, the show of force on Tuesday wasn’t about not wanting to go back to work, but doing so in a manner that is safe to the staff that worked so diligently at the end of last year to salvage the remnants of a broken school year and ensure students learned effectively even from their own homes.
“There’s nobody that wants schools to reopen more than this group right here, but we want to do it in a way that keeps students and teachers safe and right now the district isn’t doing that,” Johnson said. “Having as many as three teachers in a classroom when school resumes is not keeping the teachers safe – there was the example of three teachers in Arizona did and all three of them got sick and one of them died.
“Whether it’s having people working together or being in a building with an HVAC system that is not equipped to filter the respiratory droplets that transmit the virus, we just want to make sure that the students and teachers are safe.”
The rally on Tuesday morning was initially scheduled weeks ago to send a message to administrators that teachers were not okay with going back to campus to teach live classes even in the modified schedule that the school board ultimately approved. Plans for that rally were scrapped after Governor Gavin Newsom issued a mandate that schools in counties that are on the state’s COVID-19 watchlist not reopen until they have met the state’s rigid criteria for 14 consecutive days – pushing the date of return of physical campuses out to an unknown future date.
According to the district, having teachers in the physical classroom even for distance learning creates an equitable experience for all students and helps prepare them for the inevitable return to school – whenever that may be.
“We are immensely proud of our staff for all it has and will accomplish in these tough times. We understand and empathize with the concerns of individuals who have mitigating circumstances, fears, and commit to working with them through the interactive process to find solutions,” the district in a statement to the concerns of teachers. “In a year where we are likely to transition between distance and resident learning, the consistency and socio-emotional connection for children is much greater and more powerful when teachers can rely on the resources provided in the classroom.”
According to Johnson, a number of steps can be taken by the district to help alleviate the concerns of staff – from installing specialized filters onto HVAC units to help capture the respiratory drops that carry the virus to allowing staff to work remotely while schools are not in session.
Johnson said that part of the agreement that the district has with its teachers is the ability to “flex” their time when students are not on campus – something that he feels pairs well with the fact that Manteca Unified was the first district in the state to provide every single student with a digital device that they can use to access the curriculum from home. The union feels that that provision should allow for teachers to teach remotely while students are learning remotely.
The district, however, feels differently – from the amount of money that they invested in the supplies necessary to create safe classroom environments for students and staff to having a collaborative environment for educators that will ultimately benefit students.
“We have made the sizeable investment of well over one million dollars in PPE and other safeguards including face shields, cloth and surgical masks, Plexiglas barriers, hand washing and sanitizing stations, protective overgarments, and foot-operated trash cans,” the statement read. “We believe in our staff to rise to the challenges of supporting our students and community.”
There are 1,100 teachers, 24,000 students and more than 2,000 support staff — mostly part-time workers — that are part of the Manteca Unified School District.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.