Fresno Unified Trustee Terry Slatic expects to be sitting by himself on the dais at the district’s downtown headquarters when the school board meets Wednesday evening.
Slatic maintains that it’s wrong for the board to continue with online board meetings rather than gathering in person. He says the trustees should be role models for the teachers, district staff, and students who will be returning to their schools and work sites instead of teaching, learning, and working online as they have because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He asked members of the public to question why the meetings are still being held virtually, and to submit their comments as unscheduled communications on the meeting agenda.
Six were submitted, including this one from Denise Simons: “FUSD teachers and students will begin returning to schools on November 2nd. Some teachers and high risk youth have ALREADY returned to campuses. Yet some of the FUSD board are refusing to meet in person to do their jobs. As a board member, you have the ability to wear a mask and easily ‘socially distance’ in the boardroom. Yet in cowardly fashion, some of the board members refuse to meet in person. They have no problem sending students and teachers back to work, while hiding in their homes on a zoom meeting.”
No Return to On-Campus Instruction Yet Scheduled
While some district staffers are returning to their work sites on Nov. 2, teachers and students will continue with distance learning for some time to come, district spokeswoman Amy Idsvoog told GV Wire℠.
“We’re working with our labor partners regarding a path to reopening for all students, but for the remainder of the semester, we are continuing to focus on our small cohorts,” Idsvoog said, referring to the small groups of high-risk, high-need students such as the homeless and English learners who are going to school sites but continuing with distance learning.
The Fresno Unified school board is still meeting remotely, which the governor’s executive order allowed as an emergency amendment to open meeting laws, even as other local boards have returned to their meeting rooms.
Central Unified’s board resumed meeting in person on Oct. 13 after conducting meetings for months via Zoom. (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Central’s board was still meeting virtually.) Clovis Unified, by contrast, never stopped meeting in person, although on occasion a trustee would “Zoom” into the meeting, which is held in a “very large room,” spokeswoman Kelly Avants said.
Three Fresno Unified trustees did not respond to emails or phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday from GV Wire℠ to talk about meeting in-person. Reached by phone at midday Wednesday, trustee Veva Islas said her schedule was full of meetings and she could not immediately break away to talk about the issue.
Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas said Wednesday afternoon that the board is in fact setting a good example for the community by continuing to meet virtually: “We’re avoiding large gatherings.” She noted that space is tight on the meeting room dais, and “our chairs are really close together.”
Board President: Safety Is Paramount
Board president Keshia Thomas said she’ll be chairing Wednesday’s meeting remotely, as she has since the pandemic hit in mid-March, although she longs for a return to in-person meetings — so long as it is safe to do so.
Thomas said those who have health concerns or a family member with health concerns — she said her father has cancer — have good reason not to put themselves at risk of being infected.
The dais in the board’s downtown meeting room puts the trustees close together and does not allow for safe distancing, Thomas said. There is talk about installing plexiglass between the trustee seats to provide some protection so in-person meetings may resume, she said.
And she questioned Slatic’s motive in bringing up the issue now. “This is a way to turn the fire from him to us,” Thomas said.
Slatic sparked an uproar at the last meeting when he questioned an anti-racism resolution under consideration by the board. The resolution was approved 6-1 after five of the trustees said Slatic missed the point of the resolution, and some said they were personally offended by his comments.