The Opinion of the Smoke Signal Editorial Board
Hand-written cards, bouquets of flowers, and boxes of chocolates — Teacher Appreciation Week is usually filled with positive sentiments and thoughtful gifts for our hardworking teachers. This year, however, the week has arrived amidst parent-led protests and district-wide tension toward the Fremont Unified District Teachers Association (FUDTA) because of FUSD’s recent decision to remain in distance-learning for the rest of the school year.
On March 31, FUSD Superintendent CJ Cammack released a newsletter announcing that FUSD and FUDTA had failed to reach an agreement for an in-person return to school despite engaging in negotiations since October 2020. The two parties had disagreed on key issues pertaining to staffing, the grade levels that would be allowed to have a full return to campuses, and extra compensation for employees under a hybrid learning model. Community backlash was immediate. The next day, parents and students gathered with signs along Paseo Padre Parkway, demanding a return to school. Another protest on April 19 involved a group of parents presenting an ultimatum: they would sue FUSD if schools remained closed. Most animosity was targeted towards FUDTA, as parents believed that teachers’ request for a 33% compensation in pay under hybrid learning was the cause of failed negotiations.
Despite the parents’ claims, the teachers’ requests for increased pay are justified and in fact necessary, as the new model requires major changes to the structures of their classrooms, forcing them to put in more hours to ensure that both students in person and students online receive the same learning experience. For example, some elementary school teachers would have been chosen to teach a cohort of children at school while still maintaining the online classroom setting for those at home. Teachers were not asking for a salary raise; they were asking for their hard work and additional efforts to be recognized.
Teacher compensation was not the only factor that prevented schools from reopening. Above all, it is of the utmost importance that schools ensure the safety of students, especially while the pandemic is still ongoing. The classroom and school environments do meet requirements as the district installed air filters and put in place other measures such as disinfectants and spacing markers around campus. However, for secondary schools, it would be nearly impossible to separate students into smaller groups or cohorts and have them stay in that group for the remainder of the year due to students having different class schedules. Consequently, if one student contracted the virus, the whole school would have to shut down. With there only being 28 more school days left at the time of this editorial’s publishing, it wouldn’t be wise to go through the risk of shifting classes to in-person, only for school to shut down on or even before the 28th day.
At the end of the day, parents, teachers, and staff all have the same vision — to provide students the best educational experience possible. With the 2020-21 school year approaching its end, and considering the adjustments needed to transition 35,000 students among 42 schools back in person, it seems as though a hybrid schooling model may only jeopardize our learning experience. And there’s no one to blame for this.
MSJ has prioritized building trust between the staff, student, and parent body this year — holding a panel in response to “An Open Letter to MSJHS” last summer, implementing teacher surveys for every class, and forming the Parents Advocacy Committee in October 2020. Let’s not let the issue of an immediate return to school hinder this progress and further the divide between the teacher’s union and the rest of our community.