The union representing teachers in the Beverly Hills Unified School District (District) is seeking to enjoin the District from requiring them to return to elementary school classrooms next week.
The Courier has obtained a copy of the Petition filed by the Beverly Hills Education Association, CTA/NE (Association) on Feb. 24 with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). That Petition seeks injunctive relief based on a claim for Unfair Practices in violation of the Educational Employment Relations Act, Government Code §§ 3540, et seq. (EERA).
As set forth in a story posted earlier this week on BeverlyHillsCourier.com (“BHEA Votes To Seek Injunction Over Beverly Hills Elementary School Return Dates”), the present impasse involves Addendum 5 to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the District and the Association. That Addendum specifies that elementary grades TK-2 may reopen for in-person learning once the Adjusted Case Rate (ACR) of COVID-19 transmission in L.A. County is below 10, and that grades 3, 4 and 5 may reopen for in-person learning when the ACR has been below 7 for at least 28 days.
Allegations of the Petition
In its Petition, the Association alleges that the District has repudiated Addendum 5 by directing teachers to return to classbefore the above ACRs are established. The “Statement of Charges” filed with the Petition sets forth the following timeline:
“The California Department of Public Health issued new COVID-19 related guidance on January 14, 2021. On or about January 22, 2021, District Assistant Superintendent Matthew Horvath contacted Association Bargaining Chair Rebecca Castrapel, and stated that the District sought to again negotiate terms regarding the return to in-person instruction.
On February 12, 2021, Horvath sent Association President Alana Castanon a memo stating that the District planned to return to in-person instruction. In the notice, he also sought to ‘meet … to discuss the impacts of the revisions to the State re-opening guidelines as well as the local Public Health Order.’
On February 16, 2021, the District proposed raising the Adjusted Case Rate at which it could reopen grades TK-2 for in-person instruction-from 10 to 25. The Association did not agree to the proposed change to the threshold Adjusted Case Rate.
During a meeting on or about February 19, 2021, Horvath stated that the District intended to imminently return to in-person learning At that time, the Adjusted Case Rate in LA County was at 20 – well above the threshold numbers set forth in the MOU.
In response, Horvath sent a letter to [Association representative] Penny Sevoian, stating that the District considered that the Addendum to the MOU was ‘not enforceable,’ and that the District would repudiate it.”
The Courier has reached out to counsel for the District, but as of press time has received no comment. The District’s formal opposition to the Association’s Petition must be filed by 5 p.m. on Feb. 26.
District Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy offered the Courier these observations in response to the Association’s institution of legal action.
“We are disheartened by this news. At issue is the fundamental Constitutional right of students to a public education in the State of California (including Article IX, Section 1 of the California Constitution). In-person instruction has now been authorized and the District has an obligation to the public to protect the Constitutional rights of students.
Now that [Public Health] has given the green light, any deprivation of in-person instruction would be tragic for the families who are in desperate need of this. We equally stand behind our families who have made the decision to remain with distance learning.”
Bregy continued, “We care deeply about the health and safety of our entire community including our employees. If they require an accommodation, we have provided multiple opportunities for them to work with Dr. Horvath about this. We have also gone above and beyond the required health order to provide COVID-19 safety equipment.
From the beginning of this pandemic, we have prioritized the physical reopening of schools as soon as possible. In our comprehensive MOU on August 1, 2020, the opening paragraph states the following intention of the agreement:
‘It is the intent of the District and Association to return to a traditional educational program as soon as is feasible consistent with applicable state and local directives issued in response to this pandemic. It is anticipated that the return to a traditional program may occur in phases and may include remote and hybrid instructional and support models.’
“We look forward to welcoming our Elementary Students on March 4 for TK-2 and March 8 for 3-5.”
Decision from PERB
The dispute is now in the hands of the PERB, whose General Counsel, Felix De La Torre, spoke with the Courier shortly after the Association filed its Petition.
“Tonight, when the papers came in, they were shared with each of the PERB board members. Once they are filed our clock begins running and we get to work. I will draft a recommendation to them based on my assessment. Our board will deliberate in closed session to determine if the standard for an injunction has been met, in which case they deny it or approve it.”
De La Torre observed that the case was “a little more unique because the contract spells out specifically what conditions must exist. It is not simply a question of whether the classrooms are safe.”
If PERB determines that the standard for an injunction is met, the office of the General Counsel will appear in court to ask for the injunction to bar the school from reopening.
“In this case, the appearance would have to be before the March 4 opening date. It would probably be in the Los Angeles Superior Court,” said De La Torre.
This remains a developing story, in light of the fact that the District has not yet filed its opposition to the Association’s Petition. Additionally, Public Health has announced that teachers will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines on March 1. And, the County ACR as of Feb. 23 is now down to 12.3/100,000.
Updates will be posted on BeverlyHillsCourier.com as developments unfold. At press time, the Association’s President, Alana Castanon told the Courier, “Beverly Hills educators want to be back in our classrooms with our students as soon as it is safe.”