Community College Teachers Demand Reimbursement for Sudden Shift to Online Learning

Daniel Arias had five days to figure out how to teach a cooking class online when the campus closed its doors in March because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Questions about what recipes students could cook at home with limited equipment and what ingredients were readily available in grocery stores swirled through his head as the West Valley College hospitality management professor prepared to teach on Zoom for the rest of the semester. He regularly worked 12, 14 and sometimes even 15 hour days to ensure that he and his colleagues were prepared.

His story is hardly unique.

Hundreds of faculty members at West Valley and Mission colleges are grappling with similar problems after undergoing a rapid transition to distance learning.

“We are doing this and we are successfully doing this and we are retaining our students,” Arias told the West Valley-Mission Community College District Board of Trustees on Tuesday night. “But don’t think this was easy and don’t think this isn’t having a negative impact on our families.”

The West Valley-Mission Federation of Teachers has asked the community college district to reimburse professors for the extra hours they put in to move classes online and buy the equipment needed to set up makeshift home offices. The union surveyed some of its 700 members and found that just 88 of them spent a combined $57,000 on supplies including office chairs, desks, computer monitors and faster internet.

Vicky Kalivitis, an English professor at West Valley College, said she wants the district to provide a stipend to address faculty’s “technological and ergonomic needs.”

“I’m one of those people who did not have a home office and I had to purchase a desk that I roll around to find a quiet spot because I have a 3-year-old and two aging parents living with me,” she said. “My next purchases are [noise] cancelling headphones and a laptop stand and an ergonomic chair, but I’m waiting for the next paycheck.”

While professors report clocking 100-hour work weeks and doling out their own money for supplies, union President Kate Disney said negotiations with the district have stalled.

“We saw a little movement on some issues,” she explained. “But when it came to certain issues we were not able to make progress and the response from those across the table representing the district was that they couldn’t negotiate anymore because they were representing the position of the board of trustees.”

Disney added that the district has also not compensated eight faculty members who had spent hours preparing course work for mid-semester start classes that the district deemed ultimately weren’t compatible with distance learning.

“It seems very misguided to not support faculty during a crisis such as COVID-19” Disney said. “Our district’s reserves that come from the community through property tax. The money that the district holds is money given to them by the community. So, it’s hard for me to believe that this is what the community would want the trustees to do.”

Board President Susan Fish told San Jose Inside that she was surprised to learn that teachers were spending their own money on materials for classes.

“I’m sure that the board would be very supportive of making sure they weren’t out of personal pockets, out of personal monies that they have spent,” she said. “I would be shocked if everybody wasn’t supportive of reimbursing them for that.”

Manny Cappello, the district’s associate vice chancellor for government relations and communications, said discussions “regarding pedagogy, scheduling, technology needs, and training are happening almost every day on both of our campuses.”

“We will continue to work through the intricacies of the matter with our faculty in an effort to collaborate on operational solutions, manage the anxiety we are all feeling, and recognize the leadership our employees have shown in service to our students,” Cappello added. “This process has been unsettling for all of us, but our district is committed to taking good care of our employees while honoring our collective bargaining agreements and the appropriate processes required to collaborate on any changes.”

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.


    • How do you think you got to learn to program – because of a hard working teacher like us.

  1. Yes we have jobs, and we are grateful for them, but we have also studied for those jobs extremely hard, sacrificed years of work and family life to do so, and we continue to work over 110 hours a week on average, for a very low wage. When your administration gets 17% raise for ‘extra responsibilities’ and we are the ones doing the work, not them, things have to change. Yes millions are out of work, and millions are also highly over paid. We ask only a fair recompense for what we do because we are often the ONLY reason students succeed. We teach the very vulnerable, and studying online is not just a different medium – it is a whole cultural shift for students who are already under exposed, under educated and basically struggling over insurmountable odds. If you have the luxury of reading, of being able to communicate with others, of working yourself, it is only because of dedicated over worked and under paid people like ourselves. Education is the number one way to climb the ladder of success, and we make that happen. If you cannot respect the hard work and sacrifices teachers, instructors and college professors do for the benefit of their students then come sit in my class and see what I do every day. If you are out of work yourself, I feel sorry for you, but come sit in my class and improve yourself. You might just find that job you are looking for afterwards. We ask only that our administration support us the way we go above and beyond everyday to support our students.

    • No dispute with regards to administration. I don’t believe the working 110 hours a week.