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Schools for Special Ed. Unions forcing a 2nd look

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

A crowd gathers at Courthouse Park on Saturday for a Rally to Reopen Our Schools in Madera County. Some attendees brought signs and wore green to signify “Green Means Go.”


Local rally raises questions about why certain kids are still at home

After more than a month since Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond announced that special education students and English As a Second Language (ESL) students could return to school for person-to-person learning, Madera Unified School District and the Madera County Office of Education are “still working” on a plan to implement the permissive move from Sacramento.

Many local parents and teachers aren’t happy with the delay. And some say the delay is purposeful.

In the meantime, Sherman Thomas Charter School moved immediately to take advantage of the governor’s announcement. According to Sherman Thomas Principal Tera Napier, the school doors are open for Special Education students, English Language learners, and “at promise students” (a new name for at-risk students) for person-to-person learning at her school.

The reason for the delay at MUSD and the County Office of Education may be the teachers’ union. When questioned by The Madera Tribune as to why the delay in bringing special needs students to school for person-to-person learning instead of distance learning, County Superintendent of Schools Cecilia Massetti cited “statutory requirements,” which is being translated by many as union negotiations.

Sherman Thomas doesn’t have that hurdle because its teachers are not unionized.

Newsom’s announcement, which included the proviso that all districts would be able to bring special needs students on campus, even if they are located in counties on the state’s “watch list,” came on Aug. 14, 2020. In it, Newsom insisted, “The state will move forward with this policy out of the recognition that there are kids that will never be able to adjust to learning online no matter what kind of support we provide, even if we individualize it.”

Newsom also acknowledged that some teachers’ unions have rejected the plan during negotiations over their working conditions, saying they expose teachers to unsafe conditions. Newsom said some districts would likely have to negotiate with employee unions to reopen schools for special needs students. Newsom acknowledged the pressure teachers and paraprofessionals feel between their commitment to their students and the fears they have for their own health. This appears to be the case in Madera.

MUSD Superintendent Todd Lile sent a letter to all employees, which includes a survey that shows considerable concern on the part of some employees for their safety if students return to school. Lile tried to assuage that fear. “So far, we have only had one confirmed case of COVID-19 transmission within our district since March,” Lile wrote. “That case resulted from employees not following safety measures. Our staff has amassed 100,000s hours of work since then and served more than 2 million meals. Regardless, we know from your survey results many still fear the lack of professionalism of colleagues who do not follow the guidance. We all MUST FOLLOW the safety protocols and they could be with us long into the future.”

On Sept. 4. The state sent out guidelines for implementing the governor’s plan for bringing special needs students to school. It includes groups of no more than 14 with no more than two adults per cohort.

Newsom reminded the districts that, “Many special education students have suffered during distance learning: students with autism, learning disabilities and emotional conditions as well as those who normally would receive in-person occupational and physical therapy, but large numbers of homeless and migrant students and students in foster care also have been greatly affected.”

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