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Please know that it is incredibly difficult for us to be away from our students right now. They are the reason we entered this profession. Teachers are, by nature, rule followers; our community entrusts us with the education of our young people and with their safety. The state clearly recognizes this by placing the mantle of responsibility on us as Mandated Reporters, legally requiring us to report any environment or action we have knowledge of that could cause physical or emotional harm to a student. So we’re used to being held to a high standard and finding ourselves in uncomfortable spaces to protect students in our care. It’s just part of our job.

Late Monday afternoon, those school employees who checked their work email over a holiday weekend discovered a letter from our district superintendent, directing us to cease strict enforcement of the NJUHSD mask guidelines effective the next morning, to instead “educate” any students who decline a mask since “enforcement is unsustainable.” The letter explained that a resolution supporting this change would be presented for approval at a special NJUHSD Board meeting Tuesday evening, February 22, 2022.

The resolution to change mask enforcement was passed. Teachers present in the room and on Zoom were shocked because this directly violated the agreements the board approved with both the teachers’ union and the classified employees’ union. Those agreements–with language directly based on guidance from the CDPH, Cal OSHA, and our own county–were crystal clear: masks are required indoors at schools and medical settings. And if any changes in masking requirements were handed down by state officials, we would renegotiate the agreement at that time.

So we ask: Why now? On 2/16/22, when the state lifted masking requirements for most indoor facilities, the governor’s office delayed changes in K-12 masking requirements, announcing updates are expected on Monday, 2/28/22. Why did our district “jump the gun”? Why was there no discussion with us prior to the creation of this resolution and the scheduling of a special board meeting? Why was our district medical professional not even consulted?

As a result, teachers and staff have been put in an untenable legal position. Teachers could lose their professional credentials for not following a state mandate (Ed Code 44421). Our district could lose its liability insurance or incur fines for violating the law. We could lose our special COVID-19 disaster relief funding. Board members and other individuals in authority could also open themselves to litigation. This is playing out right now in other districts in nearby communities.

We are all ready for this pandemic to be over, and coupled with cases dropping quickly in our community, a state mandate may seem less pressing. While the board may not consider mandates to carry legal weight, the state of California does, and anything otherwise is magical thinking.

Although feelings surrounding masking are divided among our members, we stand united in support of the contract language that was approved by both our membership and by the Board of Trustees.

We bargain in good faith. When either side can simply choose to act against what was mutually agreed upon, the trust between teachers and the district is damaged and eroded.

We call on all parties to return to the table for discussion, clarification, and to define a way to move forward without breaking the law. It’s critical that we take action to begin to restore the trust and partnership we have long shared in the best interest of our students.

Respectfully,

Eric Mayer
NJUHSTA President

Editor’s note: The Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Board states, in part: “The District shall adhere to COVID-19 guidelines and orders issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California Department of Public Health (CDPH), California Department of Education (CDE), California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety Health (Cal-OSHA), and Nevada County Public Health Department (NCDPH).”