Teachers Union Files Unfair Labor Charge Against Natomas Unified for Imposing Five-Day Schedule

Natomas High School

Students get temperature checks upon arriving at Natomas High School for in-person classes. / NatomasBuzz.com Photo

THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

Updated April 8, 2021*

UPDATE: The Natomas Unified School District reached a settlement with its teachers union late Wednesday following two long days of talks. Read More

The Natomas Teachers Association has filed a complaint alleging the Natomas Unified School District violated labor agreements when it changed how and when students would return to in-person classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Natomas Teachers Association union charges that the school district administration violated state labor law when it decided to allow students to attend school in person five days a week.

“We worked hard to negotiate safe and clear conditions for a return to in-person instruction and the district has broken those agreements and upended those routines,” Brenda Borge, president of the teachers union which represents 630 members, told The Natomas Buzz.

After nearly a year of distance learning, Natomas teachers returned to elementary school classrooms March 1 to teach small groups of students or “cohorts,” using Google Chromebooks and Zoom, while also teaching those learning from home. Three weeks later, middle and high schoolers returned to campuses. For younger students, class schedules have included separate dedicated times for those meeting in person and distance learners.

Natomas Unified announced the five-days-a-week plan after the Center for Disease Control updated guidance for in-person schooling. The newest recommendations allow for three-feet physical distance between students instead of the six feet previously mandated, allowing room for more students in classrooms.

According to a school district spokesperson, 45% of the district’s students have returned to campus while 55% continue their learning from home.

The district is set to start in-person learning five days a week following it’s spring break on April 12, but will still offer distance learning to students not ready to return to school campuses. The plan is for teachers to continue to teach both types of learners, at the same time.

“In the MOU, there are a few options agreed to and listed,” Borge said. “The district model they are attempting to impose follows none of those options.”

The Natomas Teachers Association submitted a 34-page unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board on April 2. The Public Employment Relations Board is tasked with regulating collective bargaining laws protecting employees such as those who work in California’s public schools.

The Natomas Teacher Association has accused the district of not bargaining in good faith and interfering with the rights of the union and its members. In essence, the union alleges the district overstepped a labor agreement in place since October 2020 which was amended in February 2021.

“A five day a week, concurrent model is not the transitional model we negotiated to finish the school year. We negotiated a transitional model with cohorts, and time for teachers to implement this model,” Borge explained. “Despite that, anytime there is a change in the working conditions of our teachers must be determined collaboratively together, not imposed.”

Natomas Unified School District administration denies it has violated its labor agreement with the union and has offered to negotiate.

“NUSD has a NTA signed agreement that both recognized the Board of Trustees authority to make the determination which educational model(s) it chooses to adopt and allowed for a greater reopening based on governmental guidance changes,” superintendent Chris Evans wrote in a statement.

Evans also points to language in the October 2020 memorandum of understanding which reads “if Sacramento County turns yellow or governmental guidance allows for larger reopening, both sides will meet and confer about the possibility of reopening fully.”

“Instead of full renegotiations, NTA also agreed to meet and confer following any changes,” Evans statement reads. “After one meeting, they declined to exchange ideas or meet further.”

Borge said it is decisions made by Natomas Unified district leadership which led to the unfair labor practice charge.

“When districts break agreements like Natomas Unified has, we follow a legal process,” Borge said. “That first step is the filing of this unfair practice charge, and that’s where we are at this point.”

According to J. Felix De La Torre, general counsel for the Public Employment Relations Board, when an unfair labor practice charge is filed, both parties are allowed 30 days to file a position statement before it is investigated by an attorney.

But the Natomas Teachers Association has asked that the process be “expedited” and Natomas Unified has until Thursday, April 8 to respond to this request, according to a letter from the Public Employment Relations Board to the school district’s attorney.

In a similar dispute earlier this year, De La Torre said, the union representing Beverly Hills Unified School District teachers filed an unfair practice charge with the California Public Employment Relations Board and also filed for an injunction to prevent students’ return to school. The union later withdrew its charge after a long weekend of negotiations with the school district and the assistance of a mediator.

*Article updated with link to article about settlement reached between the Natomas Unified School District and Natomas Teachers Association.

Students in class at Inderkum High School where they have been attending classes in-person in cohorts since March 22. / NatomasBuzz.com Photo


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