School resumes in San Jose as teachers decide where to set up class
The San Jose Unified School District is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Elizabeth Barcelos.

Public school resumed in San Jose Aug. 12 with some teachers working from home and others from campus after a last-minute deal between the district and union gave teachers the option they had been demanding.

“A lot of my colleagues had a lot of anxiety going into the first day of school,” said Patrick Bernhardt, San José Teachers Association president. “Many teachers were comfortable teaching from their classroom but there were certainly many … who felt relief when the decision was announced.”

Bernhardt estimated between 100 to 200 of the district’s 1,500 teachers were taking the option to work from home. These include about 100 teachers with medical accommodations because of health risks. 

The plan forcing teachers to work from empty classrooms garnered fear, anxiety and criticism from teachers, who staged protests before school started.

“For the people who had a lot of anxiety about coming to campus and sharing common spaces, like using the restrooms with people who weren’t in their bubble, removing that anxiety allows them to focus on their students and be better teachers,” Bernhardt said.

Kimberly Meek, San Jose Unified Board of Education member, said she agrees with the compromise.

“It’s a good decision to allow flexibility for the teachers who need it,” Meek said. “It’s actually really great. There are certain people who need that accommodation or feel fear and being able to work from their homes is important.”

However, Meek expressed concern.

“As this pandemic has lingered, we need to get back to educating our children in a high-quality manner … particularly with the feedback we heard from families in the spring. Some families had regular levels of engagement from their teachers and some families did not,” Meek said.

Meek said input from parents led the superintendent to make the decision that she needed staff on site to ensure quality. 

“The hope is that we have high-quality delivery of education regardless of where the teaching is from,” Meek said, “and as long as we can have that I’m fully supportive.”

There is an exception for teachers with young children to be able to bring their child to the classroom with them. However, if the child is too much of a distraction, childcare is required.

“We certainly don’t want teachers trying to monitor their two-year-old while trying to teach our students,” Meek said.

Although many teachers indicated they wanted the option to work from home, some hoped to be able to teach from the classroom at least for the first few days. However, the union’s current Memorandum of Agreement with the district says once teachers commit to working from home, they’re likely committing to do that at least until the end of September, Bernhardt said.

Bernhardt said the district didn’t want teachers making a day-by-day decision to come to school or teach from home because classrooms need to be assigned to ensure staff is spread out. For instance, a special education teacher and aides would now each have their own rooms. Teachers can return to campus after school or on weekends to get materials.

However, if teachers who chose to work from home want to return to the classroom, they can appeal to human relations.

“I’m optimistic we’ll continue moving forward and get to a place where there will be more flexibility,” Bernhardt said.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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