LBUSD says it wants to help teachers by bringing them back to the classroom—many teachers disagree

Many teachers in the Long Beach Unified School District are livid over a request by the school district to have them physically return to the classroom to teach virtual classes.

The district says that working from a classroom setting will benefit teachers by providing them with the appropriate technology and materials. Teachers and their union, the Teachers Association of Long Beach, say the proposed policy is impractical, unnecessary and costly.

Elizabeth Whitall, a Long Beach teacher and single-mother of two children, said she was thankful for the opportunity to work from home, especially while her children are taking classes virtually themselves.

“Now the district’s throwing a monkey wrench into things,” she said.

Working from home, Whitall argued, allowed her to schedule her work around both her students’ and her children’s needs. Being required to be on campus for a set amount of hours would provide less flexible scheduling, forcing her to pay for childcare—and potentially exposing her kids to the coronavirus.

The cost of outside childcare has been a major concern for teachers with regards to the new policy.

“I feel like people are making decisions over what I have to do, whether I can afford it or not, and I don’t like that,” Whitall said. Reports from parents, saying they’ve received notice that on-campus childcare could go up in hourly pricing, further spooked Whitall and others.

Chris Eftychiou, spokesman for the district, said childcare options are still being developed, with associated fees yet to be determined.

“We are working to provide options that have the least financial impact upon employees,” he said.

Regardless of the costs, Whitall said she would not feel comfortable sending her children back to campus. “If money was no issue, I still wouldn’t send my kids. I just can’t expose them,” she said.

Meanwhile, the district said that returning to classrooms would be beneficial for teachers and even argued that it developed the policy based on teachers’ demands.

“We have heard many teachers’ desire to return to work from the safety of their own classroom with all of the materials and supports needed to be effective in teaching,” the school district told teachers in a July 24 email. “Working from the classroom will address some of the challenges experienced by teachers during home learning.”

A survey of 2,535 teachers by the Teachers Association of Long Beach, conducted and published last week, paints a different picture. More than half of the survey’s respondents said they did not feel comfortable returning to their school site to teach virtual classes.

Only 20% expressed that they were comfortable or very comfortable with returning, with 29% saying they were “somewhat comfortable.”

In Los Angeles, a similar proposal also attracted the ire of the local teachers union. Late Sunday night, United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District reached a tentative agreement that would allow teachers to choose whether they wanted to hold their virtual classes at home or in the classroom.

Many Long Beach teachers and parents took to social media to express their frustration and concerns, with some demanding a similar solution.

A Facebook group that was founded shortly after the district’s announcement of the blanket policy gained almost 5,000 new members in just a matter of days. Teachers and parents alike questioned how helpful it would be to have all teachers return to campus.

Some, like Whitall, suspect a lack of trust in teachers’ work ethic behind the district’s decision.

“It hurts my feelings that the district doesn’t have more faith in teachers like me,” she said. “I would love to go back to the classroom, send my kids back to school and it’s all hunky-dory. But it’s not safe.”

While some parents in the group demand in-person classes resume, others have expressed support for the teachers’ plight.

Allison Kripp, a local business owner, group member and mother of two school-aged children, joined the group out of solidarity with teachers and used it to organize a caravan to attend Wednesday’s school board meeting and speak up against the policy.

“I’d like my kids to have a happy teacher,” she said.

Kripp acknowledged that some parents and their children may have been disappointed with the classes some teachers have provided online so far. Still, she argued that those teachers, who didn’t offer students sufficient support online, were the exception. “The teachers that did get on there, they did an amazing job,” Kripp said.

Together with several other members of the group, Kripp is planning to support teachers at Wednesday’s meeting. The board will only accept public comments in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

“We want to make sure that their voice is heard,” Kripp said.

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Alena Maschke writes about all things business and beyond for the Long Beach Business Journal/Long Beach Post. Born and raised in Germany, she first fell in love with California during an exchange year at UCLA. After receiving her master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2017, she returned to the Golden State with an appetite for great stories, pupusas and the occasional Michelada.
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