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FUSD Works on Plan to Keep Playing High School Sports if Teachers Strike



FUSD is working on a plan to keep high school athletics going in the event of a teacher strike. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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Will Fresno Unified high school sports be able to continue in the event of a teacher strike?

A communication from the district to parents last week, echoed by Superintendent Bob Nelson at last week’s School Board meeting, stated that after-school extracurricular activities like athletics and clubs would not continue if teachers walk off the job.

“Will anything be cancelled during strike days? Yes, nearly everything outside of the traditional school day and our after-school program will be cancelled and hopefully rescheduled. Those will include things like sports, clubs, extra-curriculars, field trips, community meetings, and more,” Nelson said as he read from a list of frequently asked questions that had been sent out to parents via ParentSquare.

“Let me be clear – we will have school and after-school opening, and we are doing everything we can to mitigate and minimize any potential impact on our students in the case of a strike. We are currently working on a plan to consider high school events without maximizing our liability and will report more on that to see what we can reasonably do. We cannot ask teachers to participate necessarily in those things if they’re striking at that time, but there may be other mitigating circumstances that allow some of those high school events to take place. So we’re working on that currently.”

The threat of a teacher strike intensified after a massive meeting organized by the Fresno Teachers Association at the Fresno Fairgrounds last Wednesday culminated with the start of electronic voting by union members. Voting will continue until 5 p.m. today (Monday, Oct. 23). FTA President Manuel Bonilla said Friday the union will announce more information on the vote results early this week. On Monday, Bonilla did not immediately respond to a text message seeking updated information.

Monday afternoon the union said in a news release that officials will announce the vote results at a news conference at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the union’s northeast Fresno headquarters. The results are being tabulated by an outside party, the American Arbitration Association.

Fresno Unified officials are continuing to work on a plan to keep high school sports going if teachers strike, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry said Monday morning.

“We’ll share more on that soon,” she said.

The two sides are scheduled to resume formal negotiations Tuesday, Henry said. Informal conversations between district and union leaders have occurred in the meantime, she said.

Cancelled Practice to Address Trustees

The potential abridgment of the fall sports schedule brought Hoover High School’s volleyball coach, several players, and a parent to last week’s School Board meeting. All of them implored the trustees to take whatever steps are necessary to keep sports programs going.

Coach Diego Tejeda said the girls’ team canceled its practice Wednesday to come to the School Board meeting and speak to the trustees. Hoover’s volleyball players have worked hard this season and won the league championship for the third year in a row on Tuesday.

“The idea that they might not be able to continue that, to extend this season as much as possible is really heartbreaking,” Tejeda said.

For the nine seniors on the varsity squad, this year will be their last opportunity to showcase their skills and have more scholarship opportunities as well as “opportunities to experience the world outside of Fresno,” he said.

Senior Sophy Matott said players feel like they are being used as “leverage” in the district-teachers union negotiations. And for seniors in particular, who lost their freshmen season because of the COVID pandemic, the loss of part of their senior year’s playing opportunity would be “truly detrimental,” she said.

Let Student-Athletes Keep Playing

Board President Veva Islas emphasized that the district would never use students as leverage when negotiating a new teacher contract. “I do think that there’s a lot to understand about the safety during athletic games. That is a concern,” she said. “But we definitely … want to take all measures possible to ensure that you all continue to play.”

Hoover Area Trustee Claudia Cazares told the Patriots that district officials would do “everything in our power” to make sure that high school athletes won’t be impacted in the event of a strike.

“We have directed our staff and our superintendent to do everything in their world of possibilities to ensure we could continue with high school sports at the very least,” she said.

At many schools, the coaches come from the ranks of the teaching faculty. It’s not clear how many teachers might cross picket lines to continue coaching.

The district and union are at odds over four major issues in the contract talks: The union wants teacher salaries tied to inflation, status quo for the health fund contribution, reduced class sizes, and reduced special education caseloads.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email