When the Lodi Unified School District Board of Education approved a plan to implement distance learning for the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, it was understood that classrooms on campuses and bathrooms at all facilities would be cleaned on a consistent basis.
But according to Michelle Orgon, president of the Lodi Education Association, routine disinfecting and cleaning of classrooms isn’t taking place as often as it should, and restrooms — which are one of the primary sources for rapid COVID-19 spread, according to health experts — are only being cleaned on a nightly basis.
“I am concerned about bringing any student to campus at any times,” she said. “Our classrooms are not being disinfected nightly. If classrooms and bathrooms are not being cleaned, and we have teachers and staff members working from sites, I’m very concerned about mitigating possible contamination of places, especially places that we work.”
A memorandum of understanding between the district, board and LEA approved on July 22 states the district will ensure all classrooms, restrooms, cafeterias and workspaces are cleaned and disinfected, as necessary.
Surfaces and materials to be cleaned include desks, tables, doorknobs, light switches, faucets, sinks, toilets, and other high-touch fixtures, according to the MOU.
The first day of instruction in Lodi Unified is Aug. 10, a week later than initially planned. This week, teachers are preparing curriculum and activities they can do while working remotely.
As part of the district’s distance learning plan, teachers can use classrooms to instruct remotely, if they choose. They are allowed to teach form home.
The district office at 1301 E. Vine St. will be open, but employees and visitors will be required to wear masks. Campuses will be open for faculty and staff, but not family or students.
However, special education teachers and counselors would be able to bring students on campuses for one-on-one evaluations.
Orgon raised her concern about the current cleaning schedule at Tuesday’s board of education meeting during the district’s presentation of a pandemic safety plan update.
Union members have reported receiving one pair of gloves, one paper mask, and one roll of toilet paper as part of the personal protective equipment the district was distributing to employees for the school year, she said.
Some members received a face shield, and some received bottles of spray, towels, or towels and spray — all with no directions or ingredients. There was also no direction as to what they should be used to clean, she said.
“Teachers were under the impression that when they left at night, someone would be disinfecting the room,” she said. “It’s been brought to our attention that some cleaning crews have been quarantined, and some staff members have been to sites that haven’t been cleaned at all.”
On Wednesday, the district said “tens of thousands” of PPE materials have been delivered to all of its school sites, and that 2,500 no-touch thermometers will be shipped this week. A test protocol for their use is in place as well, the district said.
“Masks, gloves, face shields, hand sanitizers, and spray bottles with disinfectant are available at each of our school sites, offices, and departments,” district spokeswoman Chelsea Vongehr said. “Bathrooms and high traffic areas will be cleaned and disinfected daily.”
Orgon’s comments were part of the discussion whether to hire or appoint someone as a risk manager and point-of-contact when students, staff and families have questions or concerns about safety protocols.
According to staff, the current proposal was to have maintenance and operations director Brian Holloway take on those duties. But board members said it was unfair to burden him with an extra workload.
“I would like to have one individual be our point person for this COVID-19 response,” board member Courtney Porter said. “And Mr. Holloway, great job at M&O, but we’re throwing this on him, which is a huge service he has to do for all our employees. He has (California School Employees Association), he has the LEA, he has students maybe, if we go hybrid, and he has Lodi Pupil Personnel Association. And now you’re asking him to do both (maintenance director and risk manager positions). I don’t think that’s fair.”
Board member Ron Heberle said he served in a similar capacity with the Lodi Fire Department, as the agency’s infectious control officer.
In that role, when an incident involving infectious disease occurred, an individual must undertake mandatory training and perform mandatory follow-throughs. Heberle said. It was difficult for managers to handle their regular duties with the department, and then make sure proper forms are submitted and potential exposures are tracked, he said.
“People have to have a place to go, know how to get there and fill out the correct forms, so that now everyone can say, ‘I send all information to that individual,’” he said. “And that takes a lot of the load off managers, who are still trying to manage students, curriculum, and so forth. Just throwing something on to someone’s plate doesn’t make it work.”
The district’s risk manager position was cut during the 2008-09 fiscal year, due to budget cuts, superintendent Cathy Nichols Washer said. When the position was eliminated, duties were allocated to a variety of other positions.
Board member Sue Macfarlane said the district was fortunate to have worked for more than a decade without a risk manager. However, she didn’t know how the district had been able to operate without one, she said.
While district employees all know they are provided workers’ compensation, sick leave and disability insurance, they do not know how to access those benefits or use them during a pandemic, Macfarlane said.
“I think it’s important we are communicating in a positive manner with all our employees,” she said. “I also feel that when the number of employees we have calling staff with questions and concerns, it inundates our offices. ... To think one person can handle all those calls is nuts.”
Staff said the pandemic safety protocol plan is a work in progress, and it would return to the board with an update regarding the risk manager position at a future meeting.
No drastic budget cuts anticipated this year
The board received a 45-day budget revision report Tuesday, and thanks to the state’s ability to balance its fiscal year 2020-21 budget this summer, no “draconian” cuts to the district’s budget are expected this year, staff said.
When the board approved the district’s 2020-21 budget in June, it was anticipated that revenues would be $328.5 million, a $30 million shortfall caused by reduced state tax receipts.
Expenditures were expected to be $349.8 million this year.
However, because the state Legislature was able to draw down from its reserves, transfer funds and make reductions, among other moves, the district’s revenues are now expected to be $381.4 million, while expenditures are thought to be nearly $349.1 million, staff said.
Funding from the state is now anticipated to be $283 million, an increase of $23 million from the June budget adoption.
The district will also receive $27.5 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security Act funds, of which $25.5 million must be spent by Dec. 30.
In addition, there will no cuts to state programs such as After School Education and Safety, the K-12 Strong Workforce Program, the Agricultural Career Technical Incentive Grant and the California Partnership Academies. Those programs will actually be receiving funding, with $3.8 million for ASES and $401,000 for the K-Strong Workforce Program.