On December 4th, 2020, HBUHSD teachers were informed by email that all teachers who had been remotely teaching via the virtual distance model would, by January 5th, henceforth be required to return to in-person instruction or take a leave of absence indefinitely. It stands to reason that the district is making the switch in order to compensate for the fact that funds to pay substitute teachers will no longer be available in the new year.
Seeing as Orange County is in the Purple Tier for COVID-19 cases, the announcement seems as though it could not have worse timing. According to OC Health & Care Agency, cases have been steadily rising, with 1,519 cases in the county leaving people hospitalized and nearly 350 people in the ICU. In OC schools, there have been a grand total of 1,071 cases confirmed.
The district has since received harsh criticism from students and teachers alike, as staff was seemingly blindsided by the district’s change in direction from their original plan, which would allow teachers to remain online until January 31st.
“I am very upset by the timing of the district’s decision,” said April Lloyd, a math teacher at Huntington Beach High School. “Though never told officially, we were given the impression that the option to teach online would be for the entire 1st semester. If the district knew that the money paying for the substitutes would no longer be available after December 31st, I think they should have been up front with that information when they initially gave teachers the option to continue teaching online,” Lloyd added.
According to the HBUHSD June 2020 memo regarding the adopted district budget, $3,524,667 was allocated for the interim budget period, with an unassigned amount of $5,117,024. The memo also notes that “the increase in fund balance represents the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic with several months of expenditure savings relating to additional hours, substitutes, supplies, and services.” It is undoubtedly reasonable to question, what did the district do with those funds, which were meant specifically to pay for substitute teachers and distance learning services?
“For teachers choosing to take a leave instead of coming back, [it] puts their students with a substitute mere weeks before the end of the semester,” Lloyd said. “I don’t want to leave my students like that, but feel like I have no other choice. I will for sure not be returning to campus in January. I have 17 sick days and plan to use all of them to hopefully get me through January. I am not 100% on the rest of the semester,” she said.
She is not the only teacher that has expressed concern about returning due to health concerns. Multiple teachers at Huntington Beach High School have expressed their opposition and worries about exposing themselves and their families to COVID-19 if they return to campus, and many have engaged in open discussion with their students.
Out of this has come the formation of the student-run organization HBUHSD Student Strike, which has released the following group statement: “On January 5th we will miss the…entire day of school…to ensure…the district will not be allocated funds for our attendance.”
The organizers have advocated for standing in virtual solidarity with teachers who will be forced to either take a leave of absence or return to school, and have reiterated that this is not an attempt to ditch, but a last resort in opposition; organizers of the event are upstanding members of the HBUHSD community.
“I think a common misconception is that we are using this strike as an excuse to skip school, which we are not,” said Drew Dela Llana, a junior at HBHS and a co-coordinator of the strike. “Many of the organizers are AP students, in APA, or MUN, or other time consuming extracurriculars,” Dela Llana added.
HBHS student strike has established a social media presence, including an Instagram account and student discord that acts as a community forum. Their accounts include regular updates regarding board meetings, announcements, and information about the strike. Many staff members have expressed that they feel validated and heard by student response to the district’s decision.
“I really appreciate the students’ support! Oftentimes teaching can be a thankless job, particularly this year when it is much more difficult to make connections with students,” said Lloyd. “[The fact] that the students are upset about this and finding a way to take action and use their voices is commendable,” she said.