After weeks of negotiations, the Alum Rock Union School District and its teachers union have reached an agreement on teachers returning to the classroom — just days before the return to school.
But teachers say they had little time to prepare, and didn’t know how many students would be back in the classroom.
Before the groups agreed to a new memorandum of understanding last week, a survey showed only 1,832 out of about 8,500 students had opted for in-person instruction districtwide.
Jocelyn Merz, president of the Alum Rock Educators’ Association, said the district sent out a form to teachers asking if they would return to in-person instruction when they didn’t know what they were committing to. And teachers were only given from April 2 to April 5 to sign it.
“Other school districts were able to provide a clear and precise plan, but we didn’t get that,” said Sandra Rivera, teacher and union vice president. She noted that the district’s lack of transparency and communication made teachers hesitant to come back to the classroom. “We only had 91 of about 550 teachers who were willing to return.”
Now with a plan in place, Merz said 171 teachers volunteered to return. She’s relieved the district didn’t force teachers to work in their classrooms, but disappointed they were put through the stress after such a difficult year. She said it felt like they went into extra innings in a baseball game.
School Board President Corina Herrera-Loera said it’s unknown how many students will actually return. All students will continue with some form of distance learning, but preschoolers through eighth graders who opted for in-person instruction will also attend school in the afternoons for 90 minutes a day, Mondays through Thursdays.
For school districts that reopened in-person instruction for kindergarten to second grade by April 1, the state offered a share of $2 billion in incentive funding through Senate Bill 86. Although Alum Rock Union School District should have received about $3.1 million for reopening, it’s projected to lose about $120,000 due to its delay, said Kolvira Chheng, assistant superintendent of business services.
“Every day we didn’t open was less funding coming to our schools,” Herrera-Loera said.
A district staff member who asked to remain anonymous said she didn’t understand why everyone had to return to school when some campuses only had 18 students opting for in-person instruction.
“They’re forcing everyone to report to school, regardless of whether they have students or not,” she said, adding that parents thought students would return for all-day instruction. “Parents that filled out the survey are upset. They thought they could take their kids to school and go back to work.”
Another concern involved how the district informed teachers and staff of the return to in-person instruction.
“We were told Friday, the last day of vacation that we have to return,” she said. “It gave us no time to arrange childcare.”
Herrera-Loera said it’s been tough for union and district leaders who worked after hours and on weekends to reach an agreement, but she’s happy the district is where it is now.
“At the end of the day, it’s serving those children and families,” she said, “and having the staff and teachers feel good to teach and do what they love.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]