Teachers union: members too exhausted for 4-day-a-week school

By Chantal Lovell
April 23, 2021

Kids in Desert Sands Unified School District will remain locked out of the classroom for most of the week, because members of the union calling the shots are too “exhausted” to return to work.

Earlier this week, the district rejected a proposal that would have allowed students on campus four days a week after the union dug in its heels, refused to cooperate, and threatened to file a grievance if the board voted against them. The move is the latest example of a California school district putting union demands above student needs, and means students will remain stuck at home for the remainder of the year. No word on whether they’ll return this fall.  

“Educators are completely exhausted and have no resources left to make any more changes,” said Desert Sands Teachers Association President Trina Gonzales-Alesi. She cited a last-minute survey she sent out to teachers that initially did not give members the option of voting to return to class, something she blamed on a technical glitch. 

Teachers are already in class four days a week, with half their students attending in-person two days a week, and the other half attending the other days of the week. The rejected-proposal would not have increased attendance requirements for teachers, but merely combined the two cohorts of students, allowing them to attend school together, four days a week. 

Apparently, the union doesn’t think its members can handle full classrooms, even part time.

Gonzales-Alesi, who is drawing her six-figure, taxpayer-funded salary regardless of whether kids see the inside of a classroom, justified the tone-deaf move by saying the additional time in the classroom wouldn’t have mattered anyway, since the school year is almost over.

Students disagree.

“I got my hopes up a lot because I can see a lot of my friends and I can also bring up my grades as well as other kids in my class,” said high school junior Caleb Vanbuskirk, who will continue to be forced to do the majority of his schooling online because of the union and district’s decision. 

Caleb is not alone. Each week, we see new reports of students falling further behind in core subjects like math and reading, and suffering devastating mental health effects including loneliness and anxiety.  

Superintendent Scott Bailey sent district families a letter last week indicating the move to four-days-a-week instruction was all but certain, and justified by the improving public health conditions.

“Consistent with legislative intent and within revised public health guidelines that now allow for 3-feet distancing in classrooms, we wish to expand in-person learning opportunities,” he wrote. “Specifically, the Board will take action on the proposal to increase the number of in-person learning days per week for all grades from two days to four days per week beginning Monday, May 03, 2021 for the remaining weeks of the current school year.”

He indicated shifts in public health guidelines or ordinances could change the plan, but not union recalcitrance. This week, California achieved a notable milestone: its COVID-19 case rate fell to the least in the continental US. Conditions in counties across the state, including Riverside, continue to improve, and vaccination rates are on the rise. Unions can’t hide behind COVID-19, so now they’re just too tired.

A group of parents, students, teachers, and community supporters are holding a rally in La Quinta near the district offices on Friday, April 23 to urge the board to put student needs ahead of union demands and reconsider the proposal. 

“It is unfair to deny our children even one more day of in-person instruction if it can be done following the state’s safety guidelines and has previously demonstrated doing so,” the group said in its press release. “There is no reason students should be denied this opportunity after a year and a half of zoom school. There is no difference in exposure between students and teachers as the teachers are already seeing each one of these children at least two days a week.”

In all sincerity, I get that teachers are exhausted. This pandemic has taken a toll on us all, and the weekly shifts in public policy have often been hard to understand and indeed exhausting. As the child of a California public school teacher, I know the profession can be draining in the best of times, but I also know teachers who are drawn to the classroom out of a commitment for their students. Parents – who’ve been doing double-duty trying to educate kids at home while holding down their own jobs – and students – stuck behind screens for 13 months and counting – are exhausted.

Isn’t it time our education system puts kids, not unions, first?

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Chantal Lovell is communications director at the California Policy Center.

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