Union leadership representing almost all of the 1,100 teachers of the Manteca Unified School District is fighting against efforts to require teachers to conduct distant learning from their classroom with no students present despite the district investing $1 million plus in COVID-19 safety measures.
The school district counters they have taken all reasonable steps to assure the safety of teachers, staff and students. They also have indicated having teachers physically report to their classrooms is a question of assuring equity for all students by making sure teachers have direct access to tech and support staff as well as collaboration opportunities with other teachers.
The Manteca Teachers Association is pressuring Manteca Unified to allow teachers to teach from home and not report to schools as classified employees are in their roles to support teachers and students alike in a rally today at 8:30 a.m. at the district office complex.
The $1 million plus spent on COVID-19 safety measures includes face shields and masks as well as hazmat style paper suits for teachers that feel more comfortable with protection beyond mouth and nose coverings, touchless garbage cans, plexiglass barriers, and the conversion of water fountains into refillable water bottle stations among other measures. The district also has bought masks and re-useable water bottles for students when they physically return to campuses.
This week the district is paying teachers extra for their voluntary participation in training sessions designed to “perfect their teaching craft” for a new way of delivering education through a significantly more robust distance learning model that was put in place at the last minute when the pandemic emergency was declared in mid-March.
Today’s event that was dubbed as a “Socially Distancing School Safety Rally” in an email sent to various media outlets is being staged because MTA President Ken Johnson contends “Manteca Unified has decided to start the year with Distance Learning, but only after they were forced to do so by the County Health Department. They are also requiring several teachers share a classroom for the new Online Academy. If you remember, 3 Arizona teachers taught distance learning in the same classroom, and all 3 educators caught COVID, including one that passed away. In addition, over the summer, school contractors and staff were not wearing masks while working in the schools, and several staff developed COVID. The school district is not following safety protocols.”
The board when they initially voted on July 13 to start the school year Aug. 6 with alternating days with half of the students on the campus at any given time were operating under guidelines the county schools office and county health department had in place at the time. The position of the county health and school officially shifted to “strongly recommending” schools start the year with distance learning the same day the Manteca Unified board voted to go with alternating days. After the new recommendations were issued, they switched to the current three phase plan that starts with distance learning.
District Community Outreach Coordinator Victoria Brunn said the new online academy — a 100 percent distant learning model being offered as an alternative to the three phase approach — might indeed have more than one teacher working out of an otherwise empty classroom if enrollment surpasses a certain level. Regardless of whether there is one or two teachers working by themselves in a 960-square-foot classroom all social distancing rules and protocols will be in place.
Brunn emphasized the district has been following all recommended COVID-19 safety measures during the summer when it comes to those individuals under the district’s direct control. She confirmed there was one district employee that tested positive. Tracing efforts by the county health department showed the person was not exposed at a school site. At the same time all individuals at the school site that came in contact with the infected person were notified by the district as required by state and county health officials.
Teachers want hospital
quality filters on HVAC
systems in classrooms
Johnson also has asserted the district needs to have a filter system in place on the heating and air conditions systems in schools so teachers in their classrooms have hospital quality HVAC systems. Neither the county nor the state has imposed such a requirement on other concerns that have been allowed to reopen such as supermarkets.
District Superintendent Clarke Burke has repeatedly noted that the county did not recommend or order schools to close. The health order was specifically tailored to state that students should not return to campuses until COVID-19 numbers improve.
“School is opening Aug. 6,” Brunn said.
In a statement released Monday the district noted, “We are supportive of our teachers and we are excited for the return to school. Although it may look different, our commitment is unwavering.
“As it takes a village to raise a child; we are looking forward to our professional teachers returning to their classrooms. MUSD must prepare to provide equal and equitable access to standards aligned curriculum for all students. The classroom provides teachers and students alike the tools, resources, and supports necessary to teach all students.
“We believe the classroom, and all of the resources provided in the classrooms, are part of the teachers’ arsenal of tools to educate. In a year where we are likely to transition between distance and resident learning, the consistency and social-emotional connection for children is much greater and more powerful when teachers are able to rely on their resources.
“We believe in the power and professionalism of our educators to safely collaborate, while using all appropriate Personal Protective Equipment and social distancing while on site. We have learned so much from our experience with crisis learning, and the power of the village needs to be harnessed to apply those lessons learned this year.
“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.
“We have made the sizable investment of well over one million dollars inclusive of multiple face shields, cloth and surgical masks, plexiglass barriers, hand washing stations, protective overgarments, hand sanitizer, foot operated trash cans, etc. We believe in our staff to rise to the challenges of supporting our students and community.”
Manteca Unified going
forward with three phase
education plan for students
based on COVID-19 conditions
The distance learning that students will start in nine days that are not enrolled in the new 100 percent online academy is designed to allow transition seamlessly into the hybrid learning model with an average teacher having 17 students in a classroom while the other 17 learn remotely. That will happen when COVID-19 conditions allow it. The third phase, should that happened, would bring all students back onto campus — except those in the separate online academy — with modifications in place for COVID-19 safety.
Burke has noted the transition to classroom learning will be made when it is deemed safe to do so by county health officials monitoring COVID-19. At the same time if after the district has moved into blended learning or into a more traditional full-time on-campus situation and COVID-19 conditions regress, students can be moved back into a blended or remote learning situation without disrupting where they are in studies designed to teach the adopted curriculum
Students will start school at the same time whether the phase is remote learning, blended learning, or modified fulltime learning.
The long distance learning phase means students will be able to meet one-on-one with teachers and possibly in small groups on various campuses for testing and such.
The goal is to have teachers accessible on campus during the school day. That was not always the case when stay at home orders last spring completely shut schools down except for a skeleton crew of staff to support distance learning.
“We will continue to provide on campus support services and opportunities to address barriers for students including learning centers, access to socio-emotional support resources, mental health resources, and specialized services for our most critical population of students,” Burke noted in a letter to parents.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org