Volusia district, teachers union can’t agree on coronavirus work conditions

The Daytona Beach News-Journal | by Cassidy Alexander | August 20, 2020

The Volusia County school district and the teachers union are at a stalemate in negotiations over work conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. Unable to reach an agreement after more than 40 hours of bargaining, the union announced Tuesday it’s declaring an impasse. 

The union alleges that the district has refused to commit to following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is stalling; but the district believes its offers have been fair. 

Among the district’s offers: Five extra days of paid administrative leave per employee, at a cost of $1 million; guarantees that software and equipment for Volusia LIVE and personal protective equipment will be provided by the district; virtual Open Houses; the commitment that elementary school Volusia Live teachers will not be required to teach Volusia Live and in-person students at the same time; the commitment to look into setting up dedicated Volusia Live teachers at the secondary level; and a retirement incentive for employees of 17% of their annual salary. 

One of the union’s most central asks is that the contract follows guidelines from the CDC, while the district is offering to align the contract with its reopening plans and protocols. 

“We want somebody that has credentials in healthcare or science to make the decision of how we will reopen our schools,” summarized VUE President Elizabeth Albert. 

One example of where the union sees a disconnect: Volusia County Department of Health Administrator Patricia Boswell suggested that schools implement social distancing. But the district determined that would not be possible, and instead went with a mask requirement on campuses. (Flagler County did the same.) Additionally the union fields complaints regularly about staff members and administrators who don’t wear masks, even though it’s required by a district policy.

The declaration of an impasse triggers a legal process that would typically begin with mediation. But the union has asked to skip that process and leave the decision on the contract to the School Board, in the interest of time.

If the two entities are unable to reach an agreement on COVID-related contract items before the school year begins, any issues that arise that are not covered in the contract will be dealt with through the formal and often time-consuming grievance process. 

Negotiations continue as another conflict plays out at the state level: A judge ruled in favor of the state teachers union in its lawsuit alleging it is unconstitutional — and dangerous — for state officials to require schools open in August. However, state officials have already appealed the decision, extending the saga as schools around the state open during the pandemic.

School begins Monday in Volusia County. 

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