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LETTER: Central District Far From ‘Excellence’

President of the El Centro Secondary Teachers Association Writes Open Letter to Community, CUHSD Board of Trustees

The Central Union High School District website states that we, as a district, are “Committed to Excellence.” The CUHSD mission statement states, “We each take responsibility for high expectations for students learning essential skills, and developing abilities, and knowledge by working collaboratively with our school community and providing a safe learning environment.”

El Centro Secondary Teachers Association members request the CUHSD Board of Trustees, CUHSD administration, and site administrators to revisit those promises to the community.

In an email dated March 16, 2020, addressed to “Everyone” and the CUHSD board members at that time, Dr. Ward Andrus stated, “Safety of students and staff is our first priority.” From the time that email was sent, and all students returned to campus on the first day of school on Aug. 9, 2021, a total of 511 days passed. We expected to return to campuses that were safe and clean. Five hundred eleven days should be ample time for the work to get our campuses ready for our safe return to be completed. Sadly, we found out that it wasn’t.

We waited patiently for our concerns to be addressed during the first weeks of school as we welcomed students and tried our best to feel normal amidst the ongoing pandemic. In September, the President of ECSTA and members of the Associations invited board members to dinner to discuss areas of concern that directly impacted the health and safety of students and staff on the campuses of our schools. Representatives of ECSTA expressed that they had been working in unsafe conditions due to the lack of cleanliness of the campuses.

As of (Tuesday) Nov. 9, 2021, it has been:

84 days since ECSTA Leadership first contacted Dr. Andrus regarding the need to create an MOU to address the changes in working conditions and the safety concerns for students and staff.

81 days since Dr. Andrus received the first draft of the proposed MOU.

67 days since ECSTA Leadership first met with Dr. Andrus regarding the proposed MOU. 

63 days since ECSTA Executive council members met with two board members to discuss health and safety concerns.

62 days since ECSTA Executive council members met with the CUHSD Board President to discuss health and safety concerns.

57 days since ECSTA Executive council members met with the final two board members to discuss health and safety concerns.

603 days since Dr. Andrus informed us all that the “Safety of students and staff is our first priority.”

Despite all of these meetings and efforts, action has not been taken to actively address the concerns and remedy the health and safety issues. Students and staff are still learning and working in unacceptable conditions.

Recently, at the Oct. 12, 2021, CUHSD Board of Trustees meeting, several teachers and the President of ECSTA requested prioritizing student and staff safety, clean campuses, transparency in communication, and notifications (per AB685) of possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus, and proactive behavior in those areas of concern. The President of ECSTA has repeatedly expressed at board meetings the urgent need to address the changes in working conditions and has urged the superintendent and the board members to work towards an agreement or MOU. Progress has recently been made, but early on, the need for an MOU was questioned and the work done towards arriving at the common ground was one-sided; ECSTA’s efforts were being ignored. ECSTA’s executive officers have spoken with the board, CUHSD administration, and site administration repeatedly regarding the urgent, unacceptable conditions of the campuses, which include filthy classrooms, restrooms, locker rooms, gymnasiums, and general facilities. Even during the best of times in society, this is unacceptable; in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, this is abhorrent.

The cleanliness of the sites and safety of students has been compromised, and for the past 93 days, the only thing that has been accomplished towards improving this is an outside agency has been hired to study the problem that staff has been stating exists. The agency that studied the problem, we hope, has made a recommendation to the superintendent and the board members. We hope that action can finally be taken. The cleanliness of our facilities cannot be ignored or explained away any longer. We do not need excuses; we need action. We need our dirty toilets cleaned.  We need the trash cans emptied. We need the sticky mouse traps that are filled with roaches removed. We need the black widow spiders and the cobwebs taken care of. We need the mold in the gym removed and locker rooms treated and removed.

In prior MOUs created to address the pandemic and the changes in working conditions, certain agreed to components were not addressed until after that MOU had expired; in essence, the district violated the terms of the agreement. Just recently, the CUHSD has hired health technicians and has finally satisfied that part of the expired MOU. ECSTA realizes that by doing one thing, the superintendent will tell the board and the public that “much progress” has been made. For a district that is “Committed to Excellence,” remedying one issue doesn’t even rise to the level of mediocrity. We are a long way from “Excellence.”

ECSTA teachers, counselors, and other support staff expect and help students to strive for excellence in our classrooms and extracurricular activities. ECSTA members expect excellence from their colleagues and their site administrators. We are asking that the CUHSD Board of Trustees expect and receive excellence from those they have entrusted to be the leadership of this district. We ask that decisions be made that make us believe that the “Safety of students and staff is our first priority.” Doing the bare minimum, and passing the buck on everything else, is not acceptable. But such has been our lot for 93 calendar days. It has been 93 calendar days since the first day of school. CUHSD has had 93 calendar days to address the cleanliness of our campuses to ensure the health and safety of students.

It’s a sad day in our community where teachers need to negotiate for non-negotiables: student and staff safety, cleanliness, and adherence to the law and mandates. Parents entrust their children to us, believing that they will be safe and have the opportunity to learn in clean environments. Our district is failing every student and each adult who walks these hallways.

CUHSD Board of Trustees and administration, we need you to strive for the same “Excellence” that your teachers and staff strive for daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute. And since today is when midterm grades are due, I will close with this: You are receiving an F notice in many classes: Sanitary conditions, response time to our concerns, notification of COVID in our proximity, and the cleanliness of our workspaces.

Gabino Dueñas is president of the El Centro Secondary Teachers Association and a teacher at Southwest High.