By Zane Hill and Christian Leonard
Following months of negotiations, the Glendale Unified School District and the teachers union have signed a tentative contract regarding instruction and safety protocols for the remainder of the academic year.
The tentative agreement, which must be ratified by the GUSD Board of Education and members of the Glendale Teachers Association before going into effect, would offer childcare for school-aged children of union members and provide Chromebooks and headsets for in-person students. Students and staff members would also be asked to opt in or out of a COVID-19 testing program; currently, coronavirus testing is voluntary.
Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said in an interview Thursday she was “incredibly excited” to have reached the agreement, which was struck Wednesday.
“I believe that, in the best interests of our students and community, it was important to memorialize our commitment” in the form of this contract, she said. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting our hard-working educators and to providing a safe learning and working environment for our students and employees.”
Per the tentative agreement, middle and high school students are scheduled to return to campus on April 26, not quite a month after elementary students returned on March 29. Teachers and teacher specialists will get up to 30 additional hours of pay to prepare classrooms for hybrid instruction and take necessary professional development.
Teachers will provide concurrent instruction to in-person students and remote students, and are entitled to a support staff person to make this happen upon request. Students will remain in the same teaching cohort, whether they return to classrooms or stay remote.
Students and their families retain the option of whether to remain in remote learning for the rest of the school year, a commitment Ekchian and the school board firmly committed to last year to accommodate differing family needs.
“Students have to have options in our public schools,” Ekchian said. “I always say we’re in the same storm but not in the same boat.”
Students who return for in-person instruction will follow a hybrid schedule that puts them in classrooms at least two days a week with some amount of remote learning. Wednesdays will be universal remote teaching and learning days, to facilitate classroom deep cleaning. MERV 13 filters have been installed in all air conditioning units and each classroom has a standalone HEPA air filtration device.
GTA representatives calling for a memorandum of understanding have said they are concerned about the health of employees and students and have criticized the district’s policies as insufficient. They believe an agreement will prevent the district from changing health guidelines and other requirements without the union’s approval for the remainder of the school year.
“During a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unimaginable challenges, Glendale educators have continued to work diligently and tirelessly to ensure that students have meaningful educational experiences,” the GTA Board of Directors said in a statement. “We are grateful for the support, collaboration, and patience of parents, students, and the community. GTA will continue to advocate that students receive the safest and most equitable education possible that supports students’ social and emotional well-being without compromising quality of instruction.”
Other provisions in the tentative agreement include requiring any activity that entails removing a face covering — such as eating meals and snacks — to be conducted outdoors. Currently, teachers can choose whether to allow students to eat and drink in the classroom, a policy GTA members feared placed too much responsibility on them.
A COVID-19 contract tracer will be present at each site to assist nurses, and a 6-foot social distance will be required throughout campuses.
“I want to thank everyone whose hard work led to this agreement, which provides educational choices for our families, offers support for our educators and ensures the health and safety of our students and employees,” said GUSD Board of Education President Armina Gharpetian in an statement. “I am pleased that we have finalized an MOU and can bring peace of mind to our GTA members and community as we pivot to hybrid instruction.”
The two parties have regularly been negotiating throughout the current school year, although there has been a heightened urgency for an agreement since late February, when it became apparent that Los Angeles County would permit schools to have students return to classrooms in some manner.
GTA HOLDS RALLY
Just days before the tentative agreement was announced, the GTA held a rally at the GUSD offices on Tuesday. Demonstrators marched around the perimeter of the parking lot, waving signs and chanting slogans pushing the district to sign a contract.
About 200 people attended the rally, according to the GTA.
“I think the one thing that is standing in the way of the district right now is the district,” said Adrienne Griffin, the parent of a senior at Crescenta Valley High School, who attended the rally. “What we’re seeing here is some sort of push-pull — once again, at the expense of our students.”
Teachers and parents addressed the crowd, often expressing frustration at what they described as a lack of respect from the district and a concern that educators were being overworked. Some took aim at the district’s policy of concurrent instruction, in which educators simultaneously teach a class virtually and in-person.
GTA President Taline Arsenian said union representatives were unable to negotiate on that point because the district had already started concurrent instruction in late March.
“A contract is a mutual compromise and we feel we have compromised,” Arsenian said on Tuesday. “We want the last 10 weeks [of school] to be the best experience our students have had under the conditions of a world pandemic and we weren’t allotted that opportunity.”
As it stands, the school year is scheduled to run through June 11, which will give middle and high school students around a month-and-a-half of being on campus. For the moment, high schools are planning to have some sort of in-person graduation ceremony, with distancing, masking and limited attendance requirements.
The district and the union will again return to the negotiating table as well, this time to address what the start of the 2021-22 school year will look like. Ekchian said that this current agreement will likely provide a framework for this, though acknowledged that the rapidly improving situation in L.A. County will certainly change things.
“I’m hoping for all students to be able to return to campus,” the superintendent said. “We’ve taken care of all safety precautions and we are now in the orange tier — we’re hoping by August, health and safety guidelines will allow for a full return to in-person learning.”