Your CUTA bargaining team and the District met for negotiations on Thursday, October 22. We discussed issues related to the current MOU for the AM/PM model (modified traditional), and we began discussions on the MOU for the next stage: traditional model with safety protocols.
On Wednesday night, the School Board voted to remain in our current AM/PM model of instruction for the remainder of the calendar year if Butte County is in the red, orange or yellow tiers. This represents a willingness by the Board to slow down and give Chico Unified time to adapt to our rapidly changing teaching situations. In addition, they maintained their current position that if Butte County returns to the purple tier, school will return to an online-only model, but they reserved the right to evaluate the situation and change their minds. For example, if Butte County returned to the purple tier because of a major increase in cases at the jail, the Board might choose to remain in the AM/PM model because of the relative lack of connection to our school populations.
Based on the Board’s decision, we will be operating under the current modified traditional model MOU until at least January. We spent time working with the District to fix initial problems with the current MOU. We identified areas of concern from the survey responses and from members contacting CUTA directly. One of the largest areas of concern was the sense that many situations that arise at school didn’t have clear safety protocols in place. For instance, we identified the following broad scenarios to be addressed in terms of safety protocols:
For the shared materials scenario, it is impossible to create step-by-step instructions. For example, the protocols for the use of shared materials would be exhaustive and eternally incomplete as we discovered new and different situations where materials might be shared: lab beakers, paint brushes, clay, keyboards, pencils, paper, folders, markers, glue sticks, scissors, and on and on. The first step for most affected members will be to talk with your site administrator if you are unsure of how to safely use a shared material. If you are unsatisfied with the result of that conversation, contact CUTA and we will follow up with the District. Students may be asked to clean up after themselves, and a certain degree of common sense can guide you as well. You may also choose not to use shared materials depending on your comfort level with the suggested solutions or protocols. I have sympathy for those of you whose subjects are so deeply impacted by the major challenges of shared materials. This is an even more difficult teaching time for you.
The District has protocols for classes like drama, chorus and band, and they will have these posted in the FAQs in the staff room on the District website or in another agreed upon area. Expectations for students in common areas is the same as for the rest of campus: facial coverings, social distancing to the extent possible, and established cleaning protocols. Small group instruction may take place, but teachers should evaluate their personal situation and see whether it meets the established safety protocols including facial coverings and social distancing to the extent possible. Again, a conversation with your site administrator is a great first step if you are unsure. You may also choose not to use small group instruction if you aren’t comfortable with it. The District is releasing enhanced information about approved facial coverings: bandanas, masks with valves and mesh or transparent masks are not approved. Finally, the District has a strong deterrent process in place for students who have doctor’s notes excusing them from wearing a facial covering. This process will be posted as well.
As the District gathers this information together, they will work to post it in a central, easily accessible location. One option discussed was to continue to use the FAQs in the staff room of the District website linked here. This document is already 24 pages long and continuing to grow, but unfortunately that’s the nature of the situation we all find ourselves in. If you are unsure of a safety protocol, please talk to your site administrator, explore the FAQs, and if you are still unsatisfied, please contact CUTA.
In our current situation, there is a requirement to test 25% of CUSD employees every two weeks so that 100% of employees are tested every two months. The District has been meeting with Christy Patterson of BSSP to establish the procedures. Our current understanding is that the tests will be issued with an employee name and barcode, and the employee will self-administer the test and return the swab(s) in a sealed, provided container. This will be required. Employees who do not get tested when assigned a test will not be allowed to return to work. Think of it like the TB tests required of us. I believe the District is leaning towards organizing this at the site level--including delivery of tests, self-testing and return of the test--rather than having the tests mailed to employees homes, but it is the District’s choice. We are still waiting for clarification for when and/or how long testing is required. Although we are teaching in a “red tier” model, Butte County has entered the orange tier. How that impacts testing is still unknown.
Another safety protocol listed in the MOU is that the District will change the air filter in a classroom HVAC unit if the class has a positive test. To be completely transparent, that language came to us in an example MOU from CTA that we used as a model document and was included in the MOU without much thought by either side. We basically missed it. We haven’t been able to find any state or health department recommendations concerning replacing a filter after a positive test. Currently, the District has upgraded all air filters to the high strength MERV 13s. They are committed to replacing them within their scheduled lifespans dependent on the American supply chain. Many of our filters are custom jobs and MERV 13 filters in general are on severe back order everywhere. The District believes they have a sufficient supply to maintain their scheduled replacements. They also have large orders awaiting fulfillment.
Other MOU Issues
We will be adding to the MOU the requirement for all teachers to maintain seating charts and adhere to them. Although we recognize some teachers like to give students the freedom of choice, we need to have the ability to contact trace in the event of a positive test in a classroom. Teachers must be able to document, within reason, who was sitting where. Please ask substitutes to adhere to your seating charts.
The District agreed in principle that secondary teachers may continue to use Edgenuity for the remainder of the school year, including January to June, if they choose. Teachers may also switch to their traditional curriculum without completing the District developed form. Teachers may also choose to use some combination of their traditional curriculum and Edgenuity.
Some members were struggling to utilize the District-provided childcare because the start and end times were the same as, or too close to, the start and end times at their own sites. The District worked with CARD to expand the childcare start and end times to 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., respectively. The District has housed almost all of the children of members who requested childcare, but I realize this is cold comfort if you are one of the remaining few who have been left in an untenable position. Please contact Tina Keene regarding your position on the waiting list. You may also contact Kevin Moretti to determine your eligibility for 12 weeks of partially paid federal childcare leave.
We have heard from some members that they are concerned that it will be impossible for the District to accomplish the cleaning protocols established in the MOU. This has to be addressed in two ways. First, if cleaning does not occur it might be for one of two main reasons:
Identifying which situation is occurring is important.
Second, the cleaning protocols are in the MOU and so the District must adhere to them. If they do not, it is grievable. The question becomes: what is the remedy for a member if the District and CUTA agree that a specific cleaning task was not completed? There is no simple answer. Obviously, the member wants a clean and safe work space. The best we managed as a possible remedy is that the member reports the apparent incomplete cleaning task to an administrator. When CUTA and the District agree that a cleaning task did not occur, the member will be provided an alternate teaching/workspace while the cleaning is completed. This could look very different in different situations.
For example, a member might arrive at school in the morning and notice that a cleaning task did not occur. The member contacts their administrator who checks and sees there was an unfilled custodial absence. The cleaning task is completed as quickly as possible. The teacher and class (if applicable) may meet for a few minutes outside of the room or they may be directed to another classroom or open area on campus.
In another scenario, the teacher may report an incomplete cleaning task, but there is no obvious reason why the task wasn’t completed and/or it is difficult to tell if the cleaning task occurred or not. In this case, the teacher would be expected to continue working in their usual space until CUTA and the District can come to an agreement one way or the other. If they agree, then the above described remedy would take place.
This is far from perfect, but we haven’t been able to think up another, more appropriate remedy. The District has agreed to this idea in principle.
Volunteer Hybrid Virtual Teaching: The Third Option
By far the most challenging issue we discussed was the so-called third option in which teachers volunteer to allow a student or students to join their class virtually, most often while teaching a classroom of in-person students at the same time. Both sides agree that this is an inferior method of teaching. Both sides also agree that it is untenable in the long term. The disagreement arises in defining the “long term”. The District would like this model to continue when we move to our next stage of instruction in the orange tier: when most or all students are back on campus in full classes for full days. Your bargaining team’s initial position is that the third option should end when most or all of our students are back on campus in full classes for full days.
The District is seriously concerned about students leaving Chico Unified if they are not provided this option. CUTA shares the concern of losing students. Declining enrollment is financially devastating for a school district. CUTA needs to know what the opinions of its members are, so we will be surveying you once again. I know this feels like the year of surveys, but we absolutely must get a feel for your positions when we have to make decisions on short timelines. Please take the time to fill out this survey when it comes out next week. As we only take bargaining input from CUTA members, please remember to include your name. Kevin has had to delete almost twenty responses due to a lack of identification.
Future MOU: Traditional Model with Safety Protocols
In some ways, this should be the easiest MOU to develop, since many of our usual contractual agreements will return to normal. In other ways, it will be very challenging. If Butte County remains in the orange tier, we will likely return to school in January with full classes and students staying for the full day. Other safety and cleaning protocols will remain in place including facial coverings and enhanced sanitation.
If Butte County’s status continues to fluctuate up and down in the tiers and this anticipated “full return” in January isn’t guaranteed, CUTA is arguing for a week of warning before another change in schedule occurs. We may go into winter break quite positive that we are making that full return in January, but if we don’t know for sure, CUTA believes teachers should have some warning before it happens.
At the secondary level, we are proposing that normal schedules, including previously approved waivers, go back into effect. At the elementary level, we are proposing the same, even while recognizing that schools on minimum day waivers did not get their minimum days for parent teacher conferences. The minutes weren’t banked for half of the year either, but the remaining minimum days on elementary calendars will stay in effect.
We are also exploring options for our elementary prep time providers, who would still be seeing between 700 and 1500 different students during a full rotation. Elementary teachers will get the amount of prep they are entitled to, but we are examining delivery options.
I don’t know how many times you can hear that we are living through unprecedented times and that your tireless work with students is deeply appreciated until it stops meaning anything. I hope you can hear it at least one more time. Thank you for all that you do for your students and their families. You are truly essential.
If you’d like to look at our contract, click here. Thank you for taking the time to stay informed.
Chico Unified Teachers Association
Mary Schoenthaler serves as Vice President and Public Relations Chair for CUTA.