OC School of the Arts Wrestles With Teachers Over Scheduled Reopening

OC School of the Arts Wrestles With Teachers Over Scheduled Reopening
Orange County School of the Arts, in Santa Ana, Calif. (Courtesy of Orange County School of the Arts)
Sarah Le

The Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) has announced it might delay the in-person return date for students after a number of teachers—including the president of the local teachers’ union—stated their opposition to the Santa Ana, California, charter school’s current plan to reopen.

The school is considering a change in schedule for hybrid and in-person academic instruction from Nov. 4 to Jan. 11, 2021. Hybrid and in-person instruction for conservatory arts education will not begin until Jan. 11, 2021, regardless of pending negotiations.

“I oppose the reopening of OCSA until an MOU [memorandum of understanding] is crafted,” said Marla Cross, the local teachers’ union president, at a Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 14.

Cross, who is also a science teacher at OCSA, said that according to a survey of 65 of the school’s academic teachers, more than 49 percent of them want to wait to reopen the school until the beginning of next year, while nearly 45 percent want to wait until next fall.

On Oct. 20, the school issued an update stating that negotiations about the reopening plan are underway with the teachers’ union, the Orange County School of the Arts Teachers Association (OCSATA), to create an approved MOU. The Board of Trustees will later vote on any proposed changes to the schedule.

“We would like to acknowledge that the past few days have been emotionally charged and challenging for our Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) community. We hear you, and we are doing everything in our power to address your concerns,” school leadership stated in the update, which was posted on the OCSA website.

OCSATA is an affiliate of both the California Teachers Association (CTA), the largest teachers’ union in California, and the National Education Association, the largest labor organization in the United States.

Following a June 2018 Supreme Court decision, teachers nationwide are no longer required to automatically join and pay fees to teachers’ unions to be employed. Some Orange County educators, including Rebecca Friedrichs who spoke at this year’s Republican National Convention, were involved in this campaign and have criticized the actions of teachers’ unions on controversial political issues for years.

Ralph Opacic, the founder of OCSA, said during the Oct. 14 meeting that the teachers’ union had not been fully communicating with the school about the reopening schedule.

“We have had our negotiating team meeting every Wednesday since June and having these conversations,” Opacic said.

“We’ve been working—I thought—collaboratively with faculty and staff for months. So clearly on the CTA side, the teachers’ side, there’s been a vacuum of communication, which is unfortunate.”

Opacic claimed the school had received a number of emails from parents who said there was “an organized intimidation bullying campaign by teachers for kids who are thinking about coming back hybrid.”

Other teachers and parents also shared their personal concerns about the school’s reopening plans at the meeting.

“Everyone wants to return, but not in an unsafe situation,“ said Kelly Townsend, president of the school’s parent student organization (PSO). ”Parents are worried about putting their kids into a class with kids who are not being safe.”

Townsend said some concerns she had heard from parents were about other families who don’t wear masks or who may try to hide a fever with medicine.

Other issues brought up by parents and teachers included the risk of in-person learning to teachers with health conditions and the quality of classroom instruction with required restrictions on singing and playing instruments.

OCSA is allowing students to choose whether to stay with distance learning indefinitely or come back to school when the campus reopens. The previous deadline of Oct. 23 for families to make this decision will no longer apply, the school said. A new deadline will be released when the reopening schedule is finalized.

California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Mark Ghaly, the state’s top health official, has encouraged schools to finalize plans to reopen for in-person classes.

“We believe that schools can make the decisions even now to bring kids back [for] in-person education,” Ghaly said at an Oct. 20 press conference.

In March, the Orange County Board of Education approved OCSA’s renewal petition for its next five-year term following a months-long fight to keep the school open. Previously, the school had operated under the auspices of the Santa Ana School District.

The famed arts charter school opened nearly 30 years ago and currently has over 2,200 students. It’s known for training successful alumni in the performing arts, including actors in “Game of Thrones” and “Glee.”