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By Collin Breaux
A local teachers union alleges there has been inadequate contact tracing and delayed notifications of positive COVID-19 cases on campuses.
Alleging lapses in communication from school administrators and concerns about COVID-19 protocol lapses not being taken seriously, the Capistrano Unified Education Association (CUEA) is calling for tightened safety measures and better responses from Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD).
In response, the school district said there has not been a single case of transmission at schools and that health measures are being followed.
CUSD is one of approximately 60 school districts in California utilizing a hybrid education model in which students can either attend classes on campus or continue learning online from home. Campus capacity for CUSD is limited, and social distancing and masks are required of students on campus. CUSD began its staggered campus reopening in September.
CUEA President Joy Schnapper said the union has been involved in ongoing conversations with CUSD, and she believes everyone is doing the best they can, but CUEA members felt they were being “put off” while raising concerns with school administrators.
Among CUEA’s allegations are that some members came into close contact with an individual who had COVID-19, without being notified by CUSD the individual had tested positive for the disease, and that notifications of cases at schools were not sent out within the required 24-hour time frame.
Schnapper said there were also times when people went to administrators with concerns about safety issues, but those apprehensions weren’t validated by administrators.
“We really did try to address these at the lowest level,” Schnapper said. “We really wanted to be taken seriously.”
CUSD spokesperson Ryan Burris said the district wants to assure its teachers that district leadership and department heads hold weekly meetings with Schnapper.
“The purpose of these meetings is to address concerns and, when necessary, investigate issues, and discuss next steps,” Burris said. “We are grateful for the collaboration and partnership as we work together to support our teachers and certificated staff.”
Schnapper said the recent tension is a wake-up call and that she believes CUSD will work on the issue. CUEA will check back in with members to see if there has been improvement, and legal options are available if conditions don’t get better, such as filing a California Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaint, she said.
“We’re not kidding around,” Schnapper said.
Burris said CUSD’s first priority during this pandemic has been to keep district students, teachers, staff, and families safe.
“While we were one of the only districts in the state of California to open our classrooms in September and October, to date, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency, which reviews each case of COVID-19 connected to our schools, we have not experienced a single case of COVID-19 transmission in our schools,” Burris said.
Though transmissions have reportedly not spread on campuses, CUSD does track active cases of COVID-19 at schools, which can be seen on a publicly available dashboard.
Burris also pointed to the district following the California Department of Public Health’s guidelines, including keeping most student desks at least six feet apart as space allows, following all contact tracing protocols and submitting each case to the Orange County Health Care Agency, and following all notification timelines.
“Our record of health and safety speaks for itself,” Burris said. “Our extraordinary teachers and staff have worked tirelessly to adapt to changing health and safety guidelines, the challenges of teaching in small cohorts, and teaching hybrid and online lessons.”
CUSD commits to its teachers and staff that the district will follow up and investigate any concern brought to their attention, and looks forward to working with CUEA to keep people safe, Burris said.
Asked what CUEA would like to see from CUSD in this situation, Schnapper said members want better communication with district officials and for concerns to be taken seriously.
“We’re asking for the basics to be followed, for the health and safety of our employees,” Schnapper said.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.