Your CUTA president, Kevin Moretti, and I have been meeting weekly with the District since the middle of May. Our meetings have also been in consultation with the rest of the CUTA bargaining team and E-Board. We are trying to stay on top of the rapidly changing situation as it relates to bargaining issues surrounding reopening school in August. Because things are changing so quickly, this update may feel vague, but at the very least CUTA wanted you to know that we are continuing our close relationship with the District through the summer months.
First and foremost, the District is committed to following any and all health and safety requirements from Butte County and from the state. Currently, many of the suggestions from the state for reopening schools safely have been just that: suggestions, or they have been so qualified as to be almost meaningless as directives. The state guidelines are riddled with phrases like as practical or if possible. This is the result of being part of a huge state that is experiencing the pandemic at very different levels in very different places. Governor Newsom’s recent directive to wear masks statewide in public spaces is one of the strongest directives I’ve seen so far, but even it doesn’t mention yet how it will be enforced in local communities.
Many of you know that the District sent surveys to parents and CUTA members to gauge interest in various instructional models for reopening school. The District plans to send surveys out again since they recognize people’s opinions and thoughts may change as the overall situation develops in Butte County. Please check your email so that you can share your most up to date thoughts about reopening.
Speaking very generally, the surveys indicated that a large majority of parents and teachers wanted to return to traditional school or some hybrid version of traditional school in August, and that a minority, though still substantial number, of parents and teachers were not comfortable returning to school sites in the fall. Even this is not without caveats. Some parents and teachers likely believed that traditional school, as referred to in the survey, would include social distancing, temperature checks, masks, or some combination of these and other protections. The reality of instituting these kinds of protections is unknown, and they are not currently required by the county, though that, like everything else, may change.
This is all to say that we are working with so many unknowns. When you couple this with potentially substantial budget cuts to education, you can imagine how challenging it is to plan anything. Still, the District is making a valiant effort to get prepared for all eventualities. There are large teams of teachers and administrators working on possible elementary and secondary schedules.
Currently, the District plans to expand its online teaching program for students whose parents are planning to not send their children to school sites. There are online curricula for both elementary and secondary students, and the District believes that they can train teachers to use them in one or two short training sessions, which they plan to offer later this summer. One option being explored is to enroll students of concerned parents in online learning and selecting and training teachers who are concerned about returning in the use of these curricula. CUTA and the District have agreed in principle that teachers who attend one of these training sessions would be excused from one of the “teacher-choice” district wide staff development days during the school year or be paid $100. (The District may also offer voluntary training sessions for distance learning in the event that we have to close school sites again at some point during the year; these sessions would be compensated in the same manner as above.)
Matching students who won’t return with teachers who don’t want to return in an online teaching program presents a problem. What if there are more teachers interested in this online teaching option than students to fill the spots? CUTA shared an agreement reached in San Juan that established how to select teachers in this scenario, and, although we haven’t reached an official agreement, the District felt the model was likely to work in Chico Unified. In this model, the District would establish pools of interested teachers for elementary and for secondary. These pools would be chosen from in the following order of priority:
There are multiple potential problems with this scenario on which we are still working. For example, what if the school year started smoothly in the traditional setting and large numbers of students exited the online teaching and returned to the traditional classroom? What happens to all of those teachers? Additionally, imagine this model lasted for one year, and everyone was returning to the traditional setting for the 2021-2022 school year. Although I believe the District would make the best effort possible to return members to their original site and teaching assignment, pre-Covid-19, CUSD would never be able to guarantee this. Members opting for the online teaching model would have to realize that due to unforeseen circumstances, including declining enrollment, they could end up in a different assignment on a different site upon return to traditional teaching.
In addition to this model, which likely only applies to approximately 10% of students and members as of current survey data, we have to figure out what school will look like for the other 90% of students and members. We have a lot of work to do and a constantly changing situation to contend with. In the end, much will be dictated by the directives received from the county and state.
As for possible state budget cuts to education, the District is working up multiple scenarios to reflect the various possible state budgets, including major cuts, no cuts, mid-year cuts, etc. If you ever wondered what the District did during the summer months, rest assured they are working extremely hard to try to protect Chico Unified, its students, and its employees. This is an unprecedented situation we find ourselves in, and we will all have to take a lot of deep breaths this summer and wait for more information as it develops.
Try to relax and enjoy your summer holiday as best you can. CUTA will keep you informed of significant developments during the summer. 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.