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By Julian Peeples

In late April, approximately 400 educators at High Tech High charter school network filed for union recognition with the California Public Employment Relations Board as High Tech Education Collective (HTEC), becoming the newest members of the CTA family.

With 16 schools on four campuses and more than 6,000 K-12 students, High Tech High (HTH) is the largest operator of charter schools in San Diego County. After a year of planning, HTEC members are ready to speak with a unified voice to advocate for the resources their students need.

In a letter to the HTH community, HTEC members emphasized their support for HTH’s mission, explaining that the primary reason for forming a union is to improve teachers’ ability to “collaborate and advocate” on issues of equity.

“In order to hold our organization (HTH) accountable to long-standing promises of equity and the vision for its future, we have decided to organize our union High Tech Education Collective at HTH with the California Teachers Association,” the HTEC organizing committee wrote.

The organizing effort began late last year and took place primarily in a virtual environment due to COVID-19 safety concerns. The pandemic and the ongoing national movement for racial justice were motivating factors for educators to form HTEC, with many feeling that they had little input in school decision-making and that inequities facing students weren’t being adequately addressed by HTH management.

“We love this school, and we really want it to work,” said Paola Capó-García, a 12th grade English teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in Point Loma. “We want to make the school more sustainable. But too often our students feel abandoned due to teacher retention issues. This needs to be addressed.”

Carol King

Carol King

“The pandemic really showed that the teachers didn’t have a voice in our organization. Our hope is that a union can get us closer to bringing equity to life,” said Carol King, a ninth grade humanities teacher. “This could, should and will be a unique union for a unique school. I see lots of opportunity for more collaboration that leads to better outcomes for students.”

“It’s a widely shared view that by forming a union across all of our campuses, we will for the first time have a real seat at the table,” said Jared Hutchins, a 12th grade government and media literacy teacher at High Tech High North County.

HTH management is not giving this seat at the table willingly, and is showing outright hostility and engaging in apparent retaliation against Hutchins, an HTEC organizing committee member, who was terminated without due process only a day after he was quoted in a news article about the new union.

HTEC and CTA immediately filed an unfair labor practice charge, and more than 1,300 people have signed a petition calling for Hutchins’ reinstatement. There is also a GoFundMe set up to raise the amount Hutchins should have been paid for teaching through the end of the school year.

“In a year that has already represented instability for so many, we should be pursuing paths toward stability, not adding more chaos into the lives of our vulnerable students and staff,” the petition reads. “We are calling on High Tech High and its leadership to respect our right to organize and freely vocalize our concerns, and to reinstate Jared Hutchins immediately.”

The HTEC organizing effort has received support from the wider school community, including a member of the State Assembly.

“I’ve been a High Tech parent for more than 15 years straight, with four of our children having attended one or more schools in the network,” said Lorena Gonzalez, Assembly member for California’s 80th District. “It is the teachers and staff who make this educational experience so incredibly special for our kids. They deserve a voice on the job, which will improve the opportunities for all of our children. Today’s actions by these teachers will close the circle on the creation of a first-class school system.”

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