Fifty-two teachers absent Monday after emergency school board meeting leads to changes in mask policies


Classrooms Feb. 28 show masked and unmasked students together as a new school board policy removed mask enforcement for Rocklin Unified School District. The decision was made at a special emergency meeting Feb. 23 while schools were closed for Presidents Week break. Photo by Aaryan Midha.

In response to the closed session meeting held by the Rocklin Unified School District Board of Trustees Feb. 23, which concluded that students would no longer be excluded or separated from school facilities or activities for not wearing a mask, approximately 200 teachers in the district recorded an absence on Feb. 28, citing personal or sick leave reasons. The Rocklin Teachers Professional Association, representing over 600 RUSD staff, shortly issued a statement, written by RTPA president Mr. Travis Mougeotte, who expressed the concerns of many teachers regarding the recent decision-making processes by RUSD.

“I want to be clear, the events of today were not an organized action by RTPA,” Mougeotte said. “… on the President’s Week break, teachers learned that the RUSD Board of Trustees held a special meeting on Feb. 23 with only a 24-hour notice, and adopted a new student mask enforcement policy. While there are varying opinions on masking in our community and our schools, the issue teachers are most concerned about is the lack of respect for educators blatantly displayed by the RUSD Board of Trustees in making this change… Our School Board’s actions not only violated the state mandate, they violated our collectively bargained agreements, and most importantly the trust we are working so hard to establish.”

Fifty-two teachers were absent at WHS Feb. 28 (including those with long-term substitutes), according to Principal Secretary Mrs. Tamara Fernandes, who coordinates substitutes for teacher absences. All classes were covered with the help of 15 substitutes and administrative staff who filled in vacancies during their prep period. As a language arts substitute, Mrs. Kymberly Sindelar shared her experience regarding Monday’s events.

“I was made aware of the sick [calls] early on, so I picked up a job through our job website,” Sindelar said. “I knew who I was substituting for until the last period, then I went where I was needed. I believe the WHS administration did a great job. Other schools did not have the same coverage.”

Students have mixed opinions on the decision made by many teachers to be absent on Feb. 28 and the RUSD Board of Trustees’ recent policy changes. Ryan Long explains his viewpoint as a student who had multiple substitute teachers Monday.

“I think the teachers were justified to protest; the school board’s decision risked their jobs,” Long said. “However, substitute teachers didn’t really teach anything. It was harder to properly understand the material as a result. Nonetheless, even though some of my learning was a bit impeded, I still support the teachers’ decisions, protesting or not, because what the school board did was very disrespectful and risked their livelihoods.”

As a senior, Taylor Rau faced multiple challenges as a result of the absences.

“It really stressed me out to have my teachers absent,” Rau said. “That Monday was the deadline for the Assist-a-Grad scholarship and the two teachers I needed my letter of recommendation back from were both absent. It was really upsetting to go into class thinking that I had worked really hard all month on those scholarships and the responsible adults I trusted to write the letters of recommendation were not there. I was lucky that my teachers had finished the letters and emailed them to me, but I’m not sure if other students were that fortunate.”

Mougeotte said that nearly 90% of the teachers surveyed in an RTPA membership survey shared disapproval of the process in which the RUSD Board of Trustees conducted the change in mask enforcement policy. Language Arts teacher Mr. Patrick Gale shared his perspective on the conflict situation.

“To be clear, a lot of my anxiety stems from the idea that as a teacher I am currently being asked to break rules, not from students not wearing masks in my class,” Gale said. “As a teacher, part of my job is to set expectations, establish systems and enforce rules. With the passage of the school board mask policy of last week, I am being told by the State of California the expectation is students will wear masks in a classroom; on the other hand, the Rocklin Unified School Board of Trustees removed the means to enforce the rule. With these two seemingly contradictory expectations, teachers are torn asunder.”

Moving forward, RTPA leaders see challenges when it comes to rebuilding their relationship with the district.

“The timing of last week’s emergency meeting seems more about politics than running an educational institution,” Mougeotte said. “RTPA believes that this action by the Board of Trustees violates both RTPA contractual safety language as well as the district and board-approved Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) around keeping our RUSD schools safe and open during the pandemic.”

Students and parents have the opportunity to attend school board meetings in person for public comment, as do teachers and members of the community. The next meeting is scheduled for March 16 at 6:30 p.m.