COVID: Fremont parents threatening to sue school district if classrooms don’t reopen

FREMONT — A law firm hired by a group of frustrated parents is threatening to sue Fremont’s school district if officials don’t meet their demand to reopen schools for in-person learning by April 26.

The demand letter was sent to the district on Wednesday, about two weeks after Fremont Unified School District Superintendent CJ Cammack announced schools would remain in distance learning for the rest of the school year after the district was unable to strike a deal with the teachers union for reopening plans.

The district “has no rational or legal excuse to keep its students in distance learning, where they are lagging behind academically and suffering emotionally,” the letter from attorney Lee Andelin said.

Andelin, of the Southern California-based law firm Aannestad, Andelin & Corn, was hired by a group of parents calling themselves Fremont Parents for Reopening, who started a nonprofit to raise money to cover the legal fees, and have recently launched a website about the issue.

“Despite air filters placed in every classroom, safety protocols beyond current state and local guidance, and sufficient access to vaccines for all teachers and staff who want one, FUSD’s schools still remain closed,” Andelin said.

“We have only a precious few weeks left in the school year. FUSD must act now to provide something resembling a normal schedule for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year,” Andelin said.

Cammack declined an interview request from this news organization, but in a written statement, said the district shares the frustration many parents are feeling about delays in reopening schools.

“As educators, we are united in a belief that the best environment for students is in the classroom, personally interacting with their teachers, friends and classmates,” Cammack said.

“Since October, we have worked with our teacher’s union to find common ground on a return to in-person instruction through a hybrid instructional model. Unfortunately, we have been unable to come to an agreement,” Cammack said.

After negotiations failed, the district said it would instead shift its focus for the remainder of this school year into expanding existing learning hubs and finding other safe opportunities to bring students on campus for social interaction.

Cammack said in a previous newsletter the union and the district were split on some key issues “including staffing, the scope of grade levels eligible for a full return, and additional compensation for employees to return under a hybrid instructional model.”

As a result, Cammack said the district will forgo the roughly $9 million in state assistance funds legislators approved in March to motivate schools to reopen classrooms to at least some students.

In addition to demanding reopening by April 26, the law firm also demanded the district board approve a plan by April 30 “to return to full-time, in-person instruction providing pre-pandemic instructional minutes” for the coming school year.

“Parents fear that the pattern shown by the district this school year — empty promises followed by delays and excuses — will be repeated in the next school year. We are extremely concerned that even a fall reopening for in-person instruction remains hanging in the balance,” Andelin said.

“Parents are making decisions now on where to send their children for school next fall. A specific plan and a firm commitment to a full reopening will increase enrollment and, in turn, funding for the district. Inaction will have the opposite effect,” Andelin said.

Cammack said Thursday the district is preparing for a “full five-day-a-week return to school” for the coming 2021-22 school year, which is slated to start in August.

“Our staff continues to devote its time, energy, and resources to supporting our students, and preparing for a full return in the fall,” he said.

The demand letter from the law firm is “under review,” he said, “and we have no further comment at this time.”

Many other school districts in the Bay Area have reopened with hybrid models, including Pleasanton Unified, Livermore Valley Unified, Mount Diablo Unified, Milpitas Unified, and Oakland Unified.

New Haven Unified, in Union City and South Hayward, opted earlier in March to remain in distance learning, and Newark Unified has also recently failed to reach agreement with its teachers union over reopening plans. The board plans to meet Thursday night to discuss next steps.

In a February survey by Fremont Unified, with more than 10,000 responses, roughly 63% of families said they wanted their kids to continue distance learning only through the end of this school year.

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Author: Joseph Geha

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