As Pasadena Now previously reported, local public schools can reopen today, but there is just one problem: Local teachers and the Pasadena Unified School District remain at odds over a contract, and teachers will not return until the dispute is settled.
“Before any such action would take place, the UTP Bargaining Team would need to negotiate with the District in returning any of our bargaining unit members to their respective school and work sites,” said Union President Allison Steppes in an email to union members obtained by Pasadena Now.
“UTP currently has an MOU (memorandum of understanding) focused on health and safety that stands paramount to any other discussion regarding returning to in-person instruction. Your health and safety are our first priority. Until the conditions set forth by the Pasadena Department of Public Health and those documented in our MOU are met, there will be no further discussion on returning to in-person instruction,” the email states.
The city’s Health Department revised its emergency order on Sept. 8 to allow K-12 schools to offer limited in-person learning and services for students with specific needs beginning today, Sept. 14. The order includes students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), students requiring instruction for English as a Second Language (ESL), and/or students needing assessments or specialized in-school services. Students returning to campus must not exceed 10 percent of total student enrollment.
According to city Health Director Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, prior to offering limited in-person services schools must be in compliance with public health COVID-19 protocols. Documentation, including a signed Public Health Reopening Protocol Checklist and Exposure Management Plan, must be submitted via an online portal for review and approval by the Health Department.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has revised the county health order to allow K-12 schools to offer in-person instruction to small groups of students with special needs, such as students with IEPs, students requiring instruction for English as a Second Language, or students needing assessments or specialized in-school services, as long as the school is able to fully implement the Health Officer’s re-opening protocols,” that agency said in a written statement earlier this month.
“I think it would be great to be able to provide in-person services to our students with special needs and our English Learner students,” said Board of Education Vice President Scott Phelps. “Unfortunately, there has been a lack of progress in negotiations with our teachers’ union, so this is not possible yet, even though the county will allow it. In fact, the negotiations that were held on 9/2 are not scheduled to resume until 9/22. There is a noticeable lack of urgency in these negotiations. I am hopeful that in the interim, some services can be provided to these students by aides and staff in our Learns child care program that is now available during the school day.”
According to Phelps, the two sides reached agreement on an MOU for online learning but hit snags after they began to iron out conditions for in-person learning. Phelps said he was told “there was a feeling on the part of the teacher’s union president that we were trying to dictate a plan for special education. And that wasn’t the case, according to our administrative staff. We were just sharing some ideas and then we would discuss them when we met.”
“Educators and children,” Steppes wrote in an Aug. 17 press release, “must teach and learn in conditions that are safe and healthy. The health and safety of our students and staff must take precedence when considering the physical reopening of school buildings. We know that students do their best when their health and safety are assured.”
Medical science and public health professionals must inform school districts on the conditions of health and safety necessary to reopen schools. Consequently, UTP members believe PUSD can best protect the health and safety of students and educators by not reopening schools to in-person teaching on Aug. 17.
According to Joe Costa, president and CEO of Hillsides Support Services, only seven students in Hillsides would be allowed to return to school under the current stipulations.
“I understand the hesitation,” Costa said. “I think, especially when we’re talking about special needs kids, there are a number of issues that need to be taken into consideration. I am encouraged, however, that we are beginning that conversation and hope folks come to some resolution.”