ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. - “It was very shocking,” said Gina, a high school social studies and AP psychology teacher in Huntington Beach who didn’t want her last name used.
She’s also a recent cancer survivor.
“I’m currently on medication that -- on top of the chemo -- makes me very immunocompromised and on the advice of my doctor, she told me that I should not be in the classroom,” Gina said.
But she and 180 others who have been teaching remotely were recently notified that they must return to in-classroom teaching on January 5, 2021, or take medical or personal leave.
“I’m not staying home because I’m on vacation... I’m staying home because I’m at risk,” Gina said.
“We’ve found that in-person learning is the best way to do that,” said Huntington Beach Union High School District Superintendent Clint Harwick.
Harwick says they have been using a hybrid model thanks in part to $10 million in federal funds from the Cares Act. Part of that money was used to pay for substitute teachers for in-person classes. But that money runs out at the end of December.
“Finances, you always have to look at finances however this is about learning loss and this is about students connecting to teachers,” Harwick said.
As for Gina, she says she will use sick days and try to stay home as long as she can. But not everyone has that option.
“If you don’t have days banked, you need to just take a family medical leave some teachers will be going without pay,” said Gina.
And with COVID-19 cases exploding across Southern California, many also questioned the timing of this decision and forcing teachers like Gina to choose between their health and their careers.
"Their jobs remain secure in that we will look at their individual circumstances and see what they need to continue working in some capacity we do know that even people on leave will always maintain their benefits because that’s something that impacts them and their families,” Harwick said.
It costs the district about $80,000 per week to pay for substitute teachers under the current remote setup. Representatives for the teachers Union said that the district would need about $500,000 to continue the current hybrid model through the spring.
The district and the union are expected to draft a memorandum of understanding outlining spring instruction. Many teachers are still hopeful the remote learning option can be allowed to continue.
Following Tuesday night's Huntington Beach Union High School District board meeting, the school leaders asked the district to revisit the possibility of extending some of the remote teaching assignments to the end of semester one, a teacher's union representative told FOX 11.