Parents hope lawsuit against Fremont Unified puts pressure on district to reopen classrooms

With the Fremont Unified school year winding down, a lawsuit against the district is gearing up.

A parents' group seeks to pressure administrators for a commitment that in-person instruction will resume in the fall of 2021. The group is concerned slow progress reaching a deal for the fall could mean a continuation of distance learning. Some parents and experts said that would be detrimental to all students.

Bob Bates said his kindergarten son’s first experience with education has not gone well due to COVID-fueled distance learning.

"He would sit there and fidget for a while. Not allowed to eat in class. And then he found out how to log himself off and would crawl under the table," he said.

Concerned there’s no hard date to end distance learning and resume in-person instruction, Bates and other parents formed "Open Fremont Schools." Last month, its legal firm warned of a lawsuit, which was recently filed.

In a lengthy, seven-page letter, attorney Lee Andelin wrote in April, "FUSD has no rational or legal excuse to keep its students in distance learning, where they are lagging behind academically and suffering emotionally, while other students in California, the nation, and the world, are in school."

"The lawsuit targets spring reopening now, in May. And with the state of the lawsuit and the time being what it is, it is unfortunate to see a law firm accepting money for something, it would be impossible for it to have any practical outcome," said Victoria Birbeck-Herrera, president of the Fremont Unified District Teachers Association.

She said her members and district have already reached an agreement on reopening for summer school in June. She’s optimistic the same will be true for the fall.

Experts say continuing virtually instead of in-person learning, hurts the academic progression of all 33,000 students in the FUSD.

"We’ve seen there are significant concerns around learning gaps, social and emotional growth and well-being. Mental health as well. So those are all elements we look in being able to reopen schools, get kids back in classrooms. Get teachers back in communities with students face-to-face, that we recognize that needs to be a reality to address those concerns," said Dr. Heather Lattimer, dean of the San Jose State University College of Education.

There’s also been economic impact for failing to reopen. The school district lost out on $10 million in state aid because it had not reopened for some in-person learning by May 10. Critics say that money could have been used for revamped sanitation protocols and increased teacher compensation.