It’s a question even education experts don’t have the answer to; should California schools begin to open their campuses when the state deems it safe enough, or should they wait for teachers and staff to receive COVID-19 vaccination?
Currently, California Governor Newsom is negotiating an agreement with state legislators to distribute $6.6 billion to fund school reopenings. While the governor’s plan does include the framework for vaccinating teachers, he also described immunizations for educators as a “very idealistic goal” that would prevent reopening before the end of the school year.
Based on current trends, elementary schools will be eligible to reopen in Los Angeles County quicker than vaccines will be made available to teachers, according to L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
Meanwhile, five unions representing California school employees drafted a new set of conditions that could throw a wrench in the governor’s timeline. Their plan requires the state to offer vaccinations to all school employees before returning to in-person instruction as well as prioritizing immunizations for faculty that have already returned to class.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, California is one of the slower states when it comes to rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine. The golden state has administered just under five million doses so far. Last week, the CDC released its updated guidelines to help school leaders decide how to safely bring students back to classrooms.
What Are the Rights of Teachers?
What exactly are the rights of teachers and legal issues associated when it comes to returning to the classroom and the COVID-19 vaccination?
- The rights of teachers are governed by their collective bargaining agreement, negotiated, and bargained for by their union.
2. Most collective bargaining agreements have provisions requiring school districts to create a safe working environment for teachers. Similar agreements exist for administrative workers and staff in school districts.
3. Based on standard collective bargaining agreements, any decisions mandating teachers to return physically to the classroom without providing all teachers the option and opportunity to be vaccinated could possibly cause school districts and other governing bodies to be in violation of the respective collective bargaining agreement and subject these entities by unfair labor charges by teachers’ unions.
4. While public safety and health mandates are in place, under the collective bargaining agreement, teachers can refuse to return to the classroom as to do so could be a violation of the safety protections in their collective bargaining agreements.
5. Once such mandates are lifted, it may be difficult for teachers to refuse to return to the classroom, especially if the state is able to make the vaccine available to all teachers.
6. However, if teachers can argue that their safety still is at risk, even with a vaccine, they most likely can continue to refuse to return to the classroom. In such an instance, school districts may be able to exercise rights under the collective bargaining agreement allowing them to layoff or terminate teachers and replace them with substitute or new teachers.
It’s a quagmire of a situation for sure – trying to balance the desire of many parents to get their kids back in school, against the rights of teachers to be and feel safe and protected in their work environment.
To learn more about school administrators’ responsibilities as students return back to school, please see my “School Administrators’ Responsibilities As Students Return To School During the Pandemic” here.
Experienced Employment Law Attorney, Mediator, Arbitrator, Investigator, Legal and Media Commentator
Twice-named a U.S. News Best Lawyer in America for employment and labor law, Angela Reddock-Wright is an employment and labor law attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and certified workplace and Title IX investigator (AWI-CH) in Los Angeles, CA. Known as the “Workplace Guru,” Angela is an influencer and leading authority on employment, workplace/HR, Title IX, hazing, and bullying issues.
Angela is a regular legal and media commentator and analyst and has appeared on such media outlets as Entertainment Tonight, Law and Crime with Brian Ross, Court TV, CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox 11 News, KTLA-5, the Black News Channel, Fox Soul – The Black Report, NPR, KPCC, Airtalk-89.3, KJLH Front Page with Dominique DiPrima, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, Forbes.com, Yahoo! Entertainment, People Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Los Angeles Sentinel, LA Focus, Daily Journal, Our Weekly and the Wave Newspapers.
Angela is a member of the panel of distinguished mediators and arbitrators with Judicate West, a California dispute resolution company. She also owns her own dispute resolution law firm, the Reddock Law Group of Los Angeles, specializing in the mediation, arbitration, and investigation of employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other workplace claims, along with Title IX, sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct conduct cases, along with hazing and bullying cases in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, fraternities and sororities; fire, police and other public safety agencies and departments; and other private and public sector workplaces..
This communication is not legal advice. It is educational only. For legal advice, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in your state or city.