There's been another dustup in the many-months' war between Bay Area parents and their children's teachers and school districts, and this time it's about a kindergarten teacher taking a trip out of the country while she's still supposed to be teaching.
The unnamed teacher, reported on Wednesday by the Chronicle in a front-page (online) story that probably wouldn't be front-page in any normal year, sent out an email to the parents of children in her class explaining that she was heading out of town for "12 (+/-) days" to attend her son's "long-deferred wedding in Mexico." The wedding takes place next week, on May 19, and she announced she would be teaching from Mexico, but there would be days during her trip that would be "asynchronous" — i.e., she wouldn't be available live online, but there would be activities/lessons for the kids to do on their own.
The teacher works in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, where schools have reopened for hybrid in-person/remote learning — but teachers were allowed to opt out of teaching in-person, no questions asked, no medical reasons necessary.
Now, as Twitterers have commented after the email was posted as a screenshot to an account devoted to reopening schools in California, no one should expect the woman to have to miss her child's wedding. This may be an issue of the school not having enough substitutes to cover for her, or it may be an issue of the teacher not wanting to miss a paycheck and bending the rules due to remote learning.
UNREAL!!! Teacher for @WCCUSD in CA cancels class time and assigns homework instead to attend son’s wedding in Mexico.— Reopen California Schools (@ReopenCASchools) May 11, 2021
Half the teachers for WCCUSD, including this one, were allowed to stay remote for “health” reasons. pic.twitter.com/hHSkXTNhQJ
The Chronicle reports that under state law, students must have daily interaction with teachers, even if it is online — and under district policy, teachers must take leaves of absence if they leave the country for any reason.
The case gained much attention — and the tweet above hundreds of retweets — since it came to light on Monday, largely because of ongoing grievances and tensions among parents and school districts over the disjointed and delayed reopening plans around the Bay Area and beyond.
In a separate case, back in February, the president of the Berkeley teachers' union was videotaped taking his daughter to in-person school, all while fighting to keep unionized teachers from returning to the classroom until all of them were vaccinated. At the time, Berkeley's school district was drawing up plans to return to in-person learning in March, but the teachers' union was fighting hard to delay.
In San Francisco, parents and their kids have staged "Zoom-in" protests on the lawns outside schools, with kids in class on their iPads just steps away from actual classrooms, pressing for classrooms to reopen. And while some younger students have returned the classroom, high school students have not. Just this week, the SF teachers' union agreed to allow high school seniors back into schools before the end of the school year, which is four weeks away. However, as the Chronicle reported, most people didn't realize when the news came out that this plan may only amount to one or two days at school for a segment of students, and possibly not even at their own schools — a concession that the teachers hoped would mean the district could still qualify for $12 million in state funding.
Many school districts across the state have fully reopened, after teachers were among the first to receive vaccinations back in February and March. Still, other districts have not, and this has many parents questioning how these issues are being decided, and whether teachers' unions have acted in good faith about health and safety concerns over in-person learning. And many districts are still talking about continuing distanced learning, at least part of the time, in the fall.
"It just was absolutely ridiculous hearing about what was happening [with this teacher in Contra Costa County],” says Jonathan Zachreson, founder of Reopen California Schools, which posted the teacher's email to Twitter on Monday, in response to the Chronicle. "These institutions are abusing any leverage or any flexibility that they have. If we give them an inch, they take a mile."
Others in the district, including a parent in the kindergarten class in question, suggests that this one incident isn't indicative of any larger problem. "Many teachers are working really hard and it is sad that our teacher’s poor choice is making other teachers look bad," said one anonymous parent to the Chronicle.
The Contra Costa Board of Education tells the paper that the superintendent is looking into this teacher's case, and a trustee noted that "there are protocols for employees to take time off," and "I do not know if they were followed in this situation."
Photo: Laurentiu Morariu