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Teachers Union Says Fresno Unified Gets F for COVID-19 Safety Planning

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Fresno Teachers Association urges more action on the district's COVID-19 plan. (Shutterstock)
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Fresno Unified teachers are having to buy personal protective equipment for their classrooms because they don’t know how to obtain it through the district, the teachers union says.

The Fresno Teachers Association is calling on the district to implement a 10-point plan that includes more clearly communicating the process to obtain PPE for classrooms and school sites as well as spelling out exactly what the district expects from families and staff in terms of COVID-19 protocols.

“If you talk to any of our educators in our community, it’s been great to welcome our students back for in-person instruction,” FTA President Manuel Bonilla told reporters Thursday afternoon. “Yet we do so in the midst of another surge of infections and hospitalizations. Clearly communicated COVID-19 safety protocols that are implemented uniformly are essential for everyone’s health and to ensure that our schools remain open. Unfortunately, we’re here today because Fresno Unified is facing an information and communication crisis, in addition to a health crisis.”

According to union surveys, only 41% of teachers say they have enough PPE supplies for their classroom or school site. More than one in three teachers have purchased PPE on their own to help protect their students, and 55% say they don’t know the process to obtain additional PPE provided by the district.

That, Bonilla said, is “clearly not acceptable.”

Protocols are Unclear

The teachers union also wants the district to communicate and implement uniform COVID-19 protocols districtwide, and also spell out the COVID-19 Safety Plan, student and staff quarantine procedures, contact tracing procedures, and quarantine instruction options and responsibilities in a single document on the district’s homepage.

Confusion over the new “modified quarantine” for students arose only a few days after the school year started. Parent Cheri Perry told GV Wire that her daughter had been notified of a close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. But contrary to the district’s guidelines provided to parents before the state of the school year, there were no mechanisms in place for a rapid COVID-19 test so her daughter could return to her Malloch Elementary classroom in a modified quarantine. Nor were there immediate arrangements to provide schoolwork for the girl to do while she remained at home, Perry said.

Although district spokeswoman Amy Idsvoog told GV Wire last week that the district intended to conduct in-school testing of students with close contacts, Bonilla told reporters Thursday that parents would have to pay for their children’s testing. Inconsistent information provided to school staff and parents is part of the district’s communication failure, he said.

At the beginning of the school year, the district had prominently displayed the COVID-19 safety plan on its homepage, but the top featured item Thursday morning was a large notice that the district is seeking substitute teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, and office staff. It was replaced with the district’s new COVID-19 dashboard later in the day.

Other Recommendations

The teachers union 10-point plan also includes:

  • Establishing COVID-19 dashboards for the entire district and for each school. The district dashboard that was first posted Thursday reports cases on a monthly basis. Thus far in August, 295 students and 99 staffers have tested positive for COVID-19. Of the students infected, 206 were in elementary schools — elementary students are too young for vaccinations — 56 in middle schools, and 92 in high schools, according to the dashboard.
  • Extending COVID-19 personal leave for district employees by five more days through June 30. California’s COVID-19 supplemental leave is scheduled to end on Sept. 30. Bonilla said educators who are parents might need time off from work if their children are quarantined and would have to take leave without pay unless the personal leave is extended.
  • Covering sick time for vaccinated employees who catch breakthrough cases of COVID-19 so the time off isn’t charged to their own sick time. Bonilla said 82% of the district’s educators report they are vaccinated, 3% plan to be vaccinated by Oct. 15, 12% declined to respond, and 1% said they don’t plan to be vaccinated but will submit to regular testing. Earlier this month the California Department of Public Health issued a public health order requiring all school staffers to either submit proof of vaccination or be tested at least once a week.
  • Implementing districtwide rapid testing for all students and employees, and creating testing centers for employees and families in partnership with local health agencies.
  • Giving $50 gift cards to encourage eligible students to get vaccinated, and partnering with local small businesses to provide the gift cards.

Training Gaps

The teachers union also wants the district to schedule a noninstructional in-service day for employees and virtual town hall meetings for each school site sometime next week to review and discuss the district’s COVID-19 safety plan and protocols.

Why wasn’t this training done before the start of the school year, or in the first few days when students had half days of classes?

“That’s a great question,” Bonilla said. “But we have had that same question, to be honest with you. And that’s exactly why we’re talking about this action plan.  … Part of the failure here is the lack of of instructing folks, lack of making sure that everybody is on the same page about that across the entire district, which is 10,000 employees.”

Later Thursday, the district responded that it will continue to improve its messaging and communications concerning the COVID-19 safety plan. The district shared its updated COVID-19 Guidelines webpage, which outlines quarantine protocols, health and safety guidelines, and testing and vaccination resources.

Establishing a dashboard for each school site would require additional staff time and raise privacy concerns, the district said. Parents and staff are already being notified at schools when positive cases are reported.

Modified Quarantine Still on Hold

The district acknowledged that the modified quarantine for students is still a work in progress.

“We have also been working tirelessly with our FTA nurses to come to an agreement on implementing modified quarantine guidelines,” the district statement said. “Based on their own capacity, they have been forthcoming in sharing their struggles to handle COVID related initiatives and have asked that outside resources be brought in to take over COVID responsibilities.

“With a strong desire to implement our planned health and safety strategies as quickly as possible, the district has been working around the clock with outside agencies to do just that.”

The district noted that some of the union’s concerns have also been raised by parents, staff, and community members, and work had already begun on changes in response to those concerns.

Some of the action plan items will need to be worked out in negotiations, however. “We look forward to our FTA partners bringing this proposal to the bargaining table and working together collaboratively to implement the areas that are possible and make the most sense to keep our students and staff safe,” the district said.

The district statement did not specifically respond to the union’s complaints about the lack of PPE reported by some teachers.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email