Union and district reach compromise as in-person learning begins


Science teacher Juan Fernandez teaches from his desk surrounded by plexiglass and cleaning supplies. The district and the union both advocated to ensure teacher safety upon retuning in person.

Katelyn Lowpensky, Editor in Chief

The school board early this month unanimously approved the agreement between the district and teachers’ union over the conditions in which teachers would return to teach in person, capping months of tense negotiations between the two groups in which a third-party mediator ultimately was called in to resolve the disputes.

Among the terms agreed upon between the Campbell Union High School District and the Campbell High School Teachers Association, only teachers who had students returning to campus on April 12 were asked to teach from campus at the start of the phase three rollout. 

On April 26, the start of phase four, all teachers, with the exception of those who requested accommodations, would teach on campus.

Science teacher Juan Fernandez, one of Branham’s CHSTA school representatives, welcomed the news. The negotiation resolved issues that CHSTA had raised such as juggling additional home responsibilities while returning to school.

Issues such as ventilation and custodial services were resolved early in the negotiation process.

Some members said it did not make sense that teachers who did not have returning students on their roster should have to return to school to teach in an empty classroom. These terms were resolved in final mediation talks at the end of March.

“After a long negotiation and finally meeting with an outside mediator, I feel that the district has finally acknowledged and addressed the teachers’ concerns about reopening in a fair and acceptable way,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Robert Bravo, who is at the center of these negotiations, is optimistic about the future now that the parties have reached a compromise. His main goal is for students to finish out the school year on campus and working with the union will make that possible.

“I look forward to having teachers and students together on campuses again and am grateful to both negotiating teams for concluding their work so that on April 12 we can all fully focus on the new hybrid program,” he wrote in an email to the Bear Witness.

Before reaching the agreement, the district and the union met on several occasions since the start of the school year, but could not reach an agreement.

Many teachers raised issues about the necessity of returning to school even though none of their students were on campus. Creating more confusion was the fact that the district had asked each school’s administrative team to create site-specific plans, so that the union could not properly negotiate terms for an in-person return.

Prior to reaching the agreement, Nick Cortez, a Branham special education teacher and CHSTA Vice President and Bargaining Team Co-Chair, said that the district poorly communicated the implications of the quick transition from remote to in-person learning.

“It takes vulnerability, it takes trust, and that’s something that we’ve struggled to find between the district and teachers,” he said.

Their choice to bring in a third party to help speed up negotiations was partially brought on by the feeling that the district’s plans were too broad and didn’t provide the necessary answers to having teachers return to teach without students present. 

“They’ve (the district) been incapable of giving us answers to those questions,” Cortez said. “So, we thought that the fastest way to move past this is to bring in an objective third party.”

The district had been communicating to the community throughout the negotiating process, including providing regular Facebook Live Q&As.

However, CHSTA leaders said that an email sent in early February regarding CHTSA’s decision to call in a mediator to solve the impasse implied that the union was no longer willing to negotiate. Bravo said he sent out that mass email because he wanted to provide an update on the negotiation process.

CHSTA in an email to its members disputed the language and said that the district made the executive decision to take the case to the public before it was fully negotiated, and said that the district was blaming teachers for the delay in negotiations. 

Community members expressed their frustrations at both the district and teachers union during the March 4 board meeting when they phoned in stating that they want their kids to return to school as soon as possible. A few dozen picketed outside the district office demanding a swift return to in-person learning.

“Shame on CHSTA and the board for not getting this together and instead blame-shifting like toddlers,” said one community member. “These continued delaying tactics are noted and seemingly never-ending to the detriment of our children. Bring our students back.”

CUHSD later acknowledged that the blunt language brought negative attention to the union. Some parents had publicly criticized teachers for delaying the school reopenings. For Cortez, it hurt to hear the backlash from the community, which last year praised teachers for their fast adoption of distance learning.

“I know a lot of teachers have expressed that they’ve never felt so down on how they feel about their profession,” he said. “It’s reached a point where a lot of teachers are asking the same question, ‘Is it really worth it anymore?’”

Bravo feels that there has always been a difference in opinion, even at the beginning of distance learning last March. He believes it is due to the unprecedented circumstances that came with the pandemic. 

Now that the negotiations have come to an end, Bravo said he is optimistic about the hybrid model and is glad that everyone is now on the same page.

“I think that a plan that everybody agrees on is going to work better,” he said. “Because when people are doing things they want to do, you’re always going to get a better outcome than if someone’s forced to do something they don’t want to do.”

Fernandez also knows the importance of reaching this compromise and hopes to see progress as the district moves into in-person learning.

It is not about winning or losing, but arriving to a middle area that will benefit all,” he said.

Note: This story was updated to clarify some statements regarding the negotiation process, including custodial and ventilation provisions.