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Fresno Unified School District schools can’t reopen safely by Aug. 17, the district’s teachers union says, because of rising coronavirus infection rates in the county and the need to maintain health and safety guidelines set by local, state, and federal health and education officials.

“It is abundantly clear that we can’t safely reopen schools by Aug. 17. We can’t agree to return to an unsafe learning environment,” FTA President Manuel Bonilla said during an online community meeting as he read one of the slides in the union’s PowerPoint presentation.

Bonilla presented the results of an FTA survey of educators and community members on reopening schools and whether Fresno Unified’s plans follow guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies.

Eighty-seven percent of the survey respondents said the schools should not reopen until they can do so safely. The guidelines include 6-foot social distancing, robust health screening, mask wearing, frequent cleaning and disinfecting, and proper ventilation, he said.

Fresno Unified Gave Parents Two Choices

Fresno Unified spokeswoman Nikki Henry did not directly respond to the union’s statement that schools could not be safely reopened on Aug. 17.

The district expects to announce its updated plans for reopening schools at a Friday news conference, she said.

“We are continuing our discussions,” Henry said.

Fresno Unified last week presented a two-pronged approach to reopening. Parents were asked to reserve a seat for their children for a 100% online learning program by July 31.

For those parents who did not respond, the district would assume that their children would go to school for on-campus classes.

While the district’s reopening plan includes requiring facial masks and health screening, it said six-foot distancing might be attempted but wasn’t guaranteed.

Fresno Teachers Sought Answers

The FTA had presented a series of questions and also proposed actions earlier this month to the district but got no response. Consequently, it scheduled Tuesday’s community meeting.

The union presented a set of demands during the meeting: Fresno Unified needs to improve communications with parents, community members and employees; work collaboratively to design a detailed distance learning plan; make sure each student has a computer or tablet with built-in free Wi-Fi; guarantee students, parents and educators receive adequate distance learning training; provide three meals daily to students; and provide free tutoring and enrichment for students.

The union asked the 1,000 people attending the online meeting to answer a poll on whether they would support slightly delaying the start of the school year to ensure the distance learning plan is well developed, technology is distributed to those who need it, and the district adequately communicates its plans.

Eighty-nine percent of those who responded said the demand for a slight delay should be added to the union’s list.

Distance Learning Needs Improvement

When the school year does start, the district will need to have a more detailed, complete plan for distance learning than the model that the district rolled out after schools closed on March 13, which Bonilla called “crisis learning.”

Under that model, parents complained that their children waited weeks or even more than a month to hear from teachers, teachers said they struggled to get students to complete assignments, and the district scrambled to get laptops or tablets and Wi-Fi devices in the hands of students who needed them.

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