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Will Parents Send Kids to School or Keep Them Home if Fresno Teachers Strike?



Will a teacher strike cause student absences to spike? (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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If Fresno teachers go out on strike next week, parents of Fresno Unified school kids will have to decide whether to send them to school or keep them home.

One of the messages from the union, which parents may hear from some teachers on informational picket lines at schools Friday morning, is that strikes are shorter when both teachers and students are out of the classroom.

The district, trying to forestall that, has lined up more than 2,000 substitute teachers and vows that schools will remain open during a strike.

Both sides have a vested interest in keeping kids in or out of school: The district loses state funding through the average daily attendance formula when kids are absent, and teachers lose pay for each day they are out on strike.

GV Wire contacted a number of Fresno Unified parents to ask whether they’ll send their kids to school or keep them home. Here’s what they had to say.

Keeping Kids Home

Chris Dowdy, whose son attends Edison Computech, says he’ll keep his son home during the strike because he questions the quality of education his son will receive with a substitute teacher. Even though the district has assured parents that students won’t wind up crowded with other students into a school cafeteria or gymnasium, “I’m hearing the direct opposite from teachers.” he said.

Dowdy says he’s not happy about a fourth year of interrupted learning that is damaging his son’s education. In years one and two students stayed home because of the pandemic, and last year his son was one of many impacted by late-arriving school buses.

The district’s plan to provide grade-level work packets for students will likely be too generic to help his son, who is attending one of the district’s two National Blue Ribbon Schools, Dowdy said.

“What my son is learning right now may not be the same as what’s going on at Ahwahnee, (another Fresno Unified middle school),” he said. “So I figure he’ll learn more playing Minecraft here at home than he will being warehoused in the cafeteria.”

Valerie Quiroz said she plans to keep her 13-year-old son home from Tenaya Middle School to alleviate any stress he would experience by having a substitute teacher and having his school day upended. Quiroz said her son, who has a special education plan, “doesn’t do well with change, and so his routine has to be almost perfectly the same daily.”

Quiroz said she also plans to keep her daughter, a fifth-grader at Lawless Elementary, home as well. “I just don’t feel comfortable sending her to substitute teachers,” she said.

Quiroz, a single parent who works full-time, said she’s glad she can rely on her parents to watch over her kids if they stay home, “although I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting phone calls.”

Sending Kids to School

Carmen Zamora suspects that most Fresno Unified parents will send their kids to school during a strike. Zamora, who works for several child-oriented nonprofits, said she’s had conversations with a number of parents about what might happen if teachers go on strike.

“The parents that are working, those parents are definitely going to be sending their kids to school, because they need to go to work,” she said. With the higher cost of living — rents are climbing, as is the cost of food and most everything else — “they cannot afford not to go to work.”

Zamora’s young son, who previously attended Balderas Elementary School in their southeast Fresno neighborhood, won’t have to worry about a teacher strike — he’s now enrolled at Dailey Elementary Charter School, whose teachers are represented by FTA but not through the Fresno Unified contract.

Parent Francisca Albas said her two teenagers will keep attending classes at Edison High School if there is a strike. She doesn’t think she has much of a choice — Albas said she’s worried about the district’s losing state funding if kids stay home.

She says she’s also mindful of how students struggled during the pandemic, both academically and socially-emotionally, when they had to stay home and be separated from classmates and teachers.

“For me it is important that they go to school for the issue of mental health, since we know that during the pandemic our students were affected mentally and academically, and we cannot allow the same thing to happen,” she said in Spanish in a text message to GV Wire.

Albas said her parents’ organization, Las Panchas, has heard that retired teachers are stepping forward to be substitutes during a strike, and “we thank the retired teachers for being willing to support (us) at this time.”

A Lesson in Civics

Michelle McCoy has two children in Fresno Unified schools, one at Bullard TALENT and the other at Bullard High School. McCoy said she doesn’t share the concerns that some parents have raised about the quality of education students will be getting from substitute teachers.

Her children will be getting a first-hand lesson in civics, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, two of the basic rights in the U.S. Constitution, she says.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for my kids to learn about what, at a small scale, this is what democracy looks like. We can stand up and say, ‘this is not OK,’ and we can peacefully protest about things that we don’t agree with,” McCoy said.

Getting to see “some real-life experience, to see teachers actually actively protesting, they’re going to learn just as much from this experience as they would from a classroom experience,” she said. “Real-life experience can play a large role in their academics and what they learn in their larger worldview.”

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