While the Lodi Unified School District recently allowed its teachers to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, classified employees are asking why they haven’t been afforded the same opportunity.

Many of the district’s classified employees work in the food services, maintenance and custodial departments, and are Hispanic, elderly or both — two of the demographics health officials say are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Debra Ladwig, president of the California School Employees Association’s Lodi unit, said many of the union’s members have expressed concern about returning to campuses or the district office, for fear of being exposed.

The district is supposed to allow employees use their Family Medical Leave Allowances liberally and work from home when possible, she said.

Under expanded FMLA leaves, Ladwig said, employees are allowed to self-isolate because they are vulnerable to the virus for only 10 days; to quarantine when they are exposed; and to take care of their children due to school closure or lack of childcare with two-thirds pay for 10 weeks.

“Once these expanded FMLA leaves are exhausted, our unit members must use their own leaves unless the district provides a reasonable accommodation,” Ladwig said. “We have had many calls and emails from our members who have been denied or delayed their requests for reasonable accommodations and we have responded to district officials asking them to provide the legal authority for such denials.”

According to Ladwig, district administration has told the union it is up to supervisors and school principals to approve and deny requests to work from home.

Many principals and supervisors are denying requests not only from the most vulnerable employees, Ladwig said, but from parents who do not have access to child care.

Since the pandemic began in March, employees have reported at least two departments — custodial at Tokay High School and the district’s Custodial Response Team — have had to quarantine due to possible exposure, Ladwig said.

The district has also experienced limited shutdowns because of exposure and illness related to the virus, she said.

In late March, the district closed the James Areida Education Center at 1305 E. Vine St. after an employee self-reported they tested positive for the virus.

While it is necessary for union members to provide in-person services such as maintenance and feeding hungry students, Ladwig said, the CSEA does not believe all classified employees should be required to work on campus during the pandemic.

“Many of our folks who provide these necessary in-person services have been working straight through since the inception of the stay-at-home orders mid-March,” she said. “With the current San Joaquin County exposures and illnesses, we feel that bringing all employees to school sites puts the safety and health of our employees and the entire community in jeopardy.”

In a short email response to the News-Sentinel, the district said no order has closed school or work sites to employees, and that it has health and safety measures in place that align with San Joaquin County Public Health Services’ guidelines.

There are also procedures in place for individual employees who qualify for specific types of leave, and employees report to their work site in accordance with their work schedule and contract, the district said.

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