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Extra Cops, Less Shouting, More Demands to End COVID Mandates: Fresno Unified Meeting



Erin Schuurman brought boxes of "demand letters" to present to Fresno Unified School Board members. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)
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The drama was a bit more low key at Wednesday night’s Fresno Unified School Board meeting, thanks in part to the presence of four Fresno police officers who monitored the proceedings inside the packed board room and in the hallway outside.

Several dozen speakers addressed the board. As they have for months, the speakers — some emotional, some angry — expressed their continuing opposition to mask mandates and vaccine clinics.

Unlike the meeting two weeks ago that ended in shouting and chaos, Wednesday’s meeting proceeded with few interruptions as the School Board voted on air filtration purchases for schools and a project labor agreement to build the Francine and Murray Farber Educational Center and got the latest in a series of presentations on budget proposals for the 2022-23 school year.

But there was an undercurrent of tension throughout and starting when Trustee Terry Slatic asked for a board vote on restoring the board-superintendent communications to the agenda. It failed on a 3-3 vote, with Slatic and Trustees Valerie Davis and Keshia Thomas voting in favor, and Board President Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, Board Clerk Veva Islas, and Trustee Claudia Cazares voting against.

In August Slatic had used the board-superintendent portion of the agenda to launch his self-proclaimed filibuster that resulted in the meeting being abruptly adjourned before the board could conduct its business. Two weeks ago, the meeting was halted prior to board-superintendent communications after trustees sparred with each other and with audience members during a public comment period.

Public Comment Had to Wait

At Wednesday’s meeting, public comments on matters not on the agenda were moved to the end of the agenda —after the board approved the consent agenda items, heard the latest budget proposals, and got an update on the ongoing Local Control and Accountability Plan proposals.

Several dozen speakers then had their opportunity to address the board. As they have for months, the speakers — some emotional, some angry — expressed their continuing opposition to mask mandates and vaccine clinics.

The newly installed metal detector wanding and increased police presence were noted by at least one speaker who said the officers should be patrolling the streets instead of in the boardroom. However, no one noted the irony that police were providing security to board members, the majority of whom previously voted against renewing a contract for school neighborhood police officers at middle schools.

Speakers also complained about events at the Feb. 2 board meeting at which both progressives and conservatives claimed they were victimized.

Erin Schuurman came equipped with six file boxes that she said were filled with hundreds of signed demand letters from local residents. Schuurman said she was putting the board and district “on notice” that they had five days to comply with ending vaccine clinics, ordering an audit of the federal funding for COVID-19 relief for schools, and ending mask requirements, or else supporters would start filing claims against the district’s insurance carriers.

Later, Schuurman told GV Wire that the claims were signed by concerned Fresno County citizens, not all of whom might have a connection with Fresno Unified.

Upgrading Ventilation Systems

Earlier in the meeting, the board discussed adding and upgrading ventilation equipment at district schools. The district is starting with 16 schools that are most in need of upgrades but also will be conducting a districtwide assessment, chief of operations Karin Temple told the board. The internal estimate of districtwide upgrades is $100 million, she said.

“Upgrading every HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) system in the district is a very significant undertaking,” she said.

The district has devoted $12 million to the 16-school project, which will roll out a few at a time over the coming months as contractors and materials are available, Temple said.

The schools were designed for MERV 11 filtration, but the district’s goal is to improve the air filtering to MERV 13, she said. A higher MERV rating indicates better filtration.

A story this week in The Fresno Bee questioned why Fresno Unified, unlike other nearby school districts, had not spent money on air filtration systems. The story reported that Clovis Unified spent $4.3 million to purchase HEPA-grade Carrier air filtration units, and quoted Fresno Unified teachers as saying plug-in air purifiers in their classrooms were nearly worthless.

Temple told the board that the district had made some improvements already to improve air ventilation. At 17 schools, chilled water buffer tanks were added, which enabled fans to move at higher speeds and move more air, she said. At 14 schools, filtration was upgraded immediately to MERV 13 with the addition of new filters.

Islas said that while the long-range facilities planning appears to be an appropriate investment of district resources, “there does seem to be more of a need for some immediate action in particular as it relates to COVID mitigation and prevention.”

A rendering of the Francine and Murray Farber Educational Campus (Fresno Unified School District)

Local Hires for School Construction Jobs?

The board also discussed the award of the construction project and project labor agreement for the Farber Educational Center. Slatic noted that workers in the community who voted for the bond measures and are paying for them on their property taxes may not be hired to work on the jobs because of the requirements set out in the project labor agreement. He asked the district to track the home addresses of the workers who are hired by the general contractor and subcontractors so the district can determine how many out-of-town workers are hired for the jobs.

Trustee Claudia Cazares suggested that the district might get a quicker answer by seeking home addresses of those workers who have been hired to construct the district’s newest school, Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary, which was the district’s first project labor agreement contract.

A district staff noted that the general contractor and most of the subcontractors for the Farber project are from Fresno.

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