Hart District avoids teacher layoffs; officials discuss return

The William S. Hart Union High School District office
The William S. Hart Union High School District office
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There are no teacher layoffs planned for William S. Hart Union High School District for the coming fall, district and teacher representatives confirmed Thursday. 

Shifting state budgets due to COVID-19 created uncertainty in regard to school district financing. Earlier this summer, the Hart District had issued 22 reductions for a handful of classified positions, from custodians to groundskeepers to office assistants. 

The question had been whether the reductions would also impact the teaching staff, after the state granted local districts more time to send out pink slips, which would let a teacher know if their position would not be around next year due to budget cuts. Previously, those notices had to be sent by May. 

Governing board President Linda Storli concurred, saying that there would be no pink slips issued to teachers in August. 

“If we did reduce the size, the number of teachers — it would be through attrition,” said Storli, referring to potential decisions about not replacing faculty members who are retiring. “It wouldn’t be laying off someone.” 

5-week timeline

In a communication from the Hart District Teachers Association sent earlier this week obtained by The Signal, teachers questioned whether it was realistic for the district to be able to a hybird model in five weeks.

The concern cited by the HDTA in the letter to teachers was the need for Los Angeles County to be off the state’s watch list for two weeks straight in order for the return to be deemed safe under the current orders. 

Last week, the Hart District board voted to start the fall semester using a virtual format, effectively becoming the first Santa Clarita Valley school district to formalize a plan of this kind. 

Over the course of the next week, Gov. Gavin Newsom would announce that schools on the state watchlist for negative COVID-19 trends, of which L.A. County is one, would not be allowed to reopen in the fall, and the other four school districts in the SCV followed the Hart District’s lead in announcing their own virtual fall starts. 

However, while the elementary school districts either declined to put a time limit on their return, while others said they would await the decision to take L.A. County off the watchlist, the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board had voted to revisit the topic of a blended model return to campuses five weeks after the start of school. 

A blended model, which is a plan that all the districts have said they will look at once they’re able to return, involves having groups of students attending campus on alternating days, while continuing their online education for those days they aren’t receiving instruction physically within a classroom. 

“I think the district made a prudent choice. In the first five weeks, we’ll see what happens,” said Wade Williams, vice president for the Hart District Teachers Association. “Now that (teachers) have got directions, they’re trying to make the most of the situation.” 

Storli said that while she believes the district, in a perfect world free from COVID-19, could return to campus instantaneously, the board acknowledges that’s not the present situation, and may not even be the case five weeks after the start of school. 

“We will always follow what L.A. County tells us we can and can’t do,” said Storli.

Teachers in the Classroom

One issue that remains up for debate and the district to solve is, during the online format at the beginning, will the teachers be mandated to livestream from inside their classrooms? 

The district has said they would like to see teachers within the classroom, teaching through teleconference, but the teachers association has reservations.

“This is real people are getting sick, real people are getting really sick and people are dying,” said Williams. “Some of them are just overwhelmed by not only the obstacles, but also the valid questions.”

Williams cited the association’s own survey it had distributed last week, with 700 of the more than 1,200 teachers who responded to a survey in early July saying they didn’t feel comfortable returning to campus.

“They’re (teachers) trying to give students the best education possible in a crappy situation,”  Williams said, referring to the challenges quarantine has put on the classroom experience. “This is such unknown territory.” 

The discussion of whether to have teachers in the classroom teaching will be a topic of discussion for the board in coming weeks, Storli said. 

“We did say during our (last) meeting that that’s what we wanted,” said Storli. “There has been a lot of teachers talking about reasons that they can and don’t want to go back into the classroom, so that’s going to be on our agenda for our next meeting.” 

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