Fed-up parents in Fremont threaten lawsuit over district's failure to reopen schools

A group of parents in Fremont have hired a lawyer and sent a letter to the Fremont Unified School District in their push to get public schools reopen. 

The letter was sent to FUSD over its failure to reopen any schools for a hybrid model of in-person instruction before the end of the academic school year. It comes after the district and teacher’s union, Fremont Unified District Teachers Association, failed to come to an agreement to reopen schools. The letter demands that the district approve a plan to return to some form of in-person learning by April 26 and to come up with a concrete plan for a full return to campuses in the Fall of 2021.

The letter was sent by Southern California attorney Lee Andelin of Aannestad Andelin & Corn LLP on behalf of the group Fremont Parents for Reopening. Andelin has successfully helped parents in their fight to get districts to reopen in the San Diego and Los Angeles area.

A mother who only wanted to be identified by the initials A.S. said the group is not taking sides between the district and teacher’s union. She and others said they hope they don’t have to file a lawsuit, but they want the district to take action.

"We paid a premium to live in Fremont because of the reputation that the schools have and we see surrounding schools that are open and open successfully," she said.

Another parent, Bob Bates, said the goal of hiring Andelin is to facilitate some movement between the district and teacher’s union.

"Somebody just needs to come in and get them to get to an agreement," he said.

Bates also expressed concerns about the mental health impacts that distance learning has on students, and noted that many students suffer from Zoom fatigue.

FUDTA President Victoria Birbeck-Herrera said it was sad to see that some parents felt they had no other recourse than to hire an attorney. She said the union’s current contract with the district for distance learning expires in June.

"Unless there is something that is countywide or statewide prevents us from [returning], which has been the case when we closed last March… we will go back to normal times starting in August as long as we are allowed," Birbeck-Herrera said.

FUSD Superintendent CJ Cammack released the following statement in regards to the issue:

"FUSD is in receipt of a recent letter outlining demands of a southern California attorney retained by parents in our community. We understand and share the frustration many of our families are feeling with regards to the delayed opening of schools. As educators, we are united in a belief that the best environment for students is in the classroom, personally interacting with their teachers, friends and classmates.

Since October, we have worked with our teacher’s union to find common ground on a return to in-person instruction through a hybrid instructional model. Unfortunately, we have been unable to come to an agreement. With eight weeks remaining in the school year, the difficult decision was made to remain in distance learning and focus on ways to increase the scope of our existing Learning Hubs and find other safe ways to bring students on to campus for social interaction.

FUSD is preparing for a full five-day-a-week return to school for the start of the 2021-22 school year in August. Our staff continues to devote its time, energy, and resources to support our students, and prepare for a full return in the fall. At this time, the referenced letter is under review, and we have no further comment at this time."

Still parents and some teachers, like Kindergarten teacher Jamie Black Phillips, are skeptical about a full return in August.

"We aren’t necessarily going to be set up for the Fall," Black Phillips said. "We aren’t going to have any practice putting in those safety guidelines in place because we didn’t do it this year."

Andelin and the parents have given FUSD until Monday, April 19 to respond to the letter.