Reopening

The Richmond Branch of the NAACP wants WCCUSD to Open Schools for Fall 2021

April 30, 2021
NAACP Richmond Branch Logo

See the original letter as a PDF here.

Mister Phillips, Board President
WEST CONTRA COSTA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
1108 Bissell Avenue
Richmond, CA 94804

RE: BOARD AGENDA ITEM F-1 (FALL REOPENING)

The NAACP Richmond Branch recommends that the West Contra Costa Unified School District should fully re-open schools in the Fall of 2021. There are many reasons for our perspective, such as families with work hardships as well as student’s social-emotional considerations. Our primary concern is for the education of all children. Particularly, children of color, who disproportionately are not meeting grade level standards.

We agree that all students should be able to return to school in the fall. However, those parents, who may elect to continue distance learning, the District should provide equitable instructional time with equal standards to those who attend school in-person. This would include keeping students in stable, consistent environments when classes are mixed with in-class and distant-learning combinations.

It is also our concern that students who attend schools via distance learning and are on waivers, can maintain that status, if, and when they return to in-person learning. The basis of our position stems from observations and interactions with parents, teachers, students, and paraprofessionals, who assist with students’ academics.

Being physically back in the classroom may not be a panacea for the problems in our education system, but it does provide students with a different kind of mindset and teachers with a different kind of accountability. Our children are valuable and deserve the best opportunity to be successful. That includes an educational system that does not put the weight failures and inequities on their backs.

In summation we, the NAACP Richmond Branch, recommend that the WCCUSD open its doors in Fall 2021 for all students who physically want to be on campus. However, families should have an option to continue distance learning without any consequences.

Sincerely,

Willie J. Robinson
Branch President

cc: Honorable Board Members
Matthew Duffy, Superintendent

Reopening

Our Statement On Return to School

April 20, 2021

Download this statement as a PDF.

With school doors reopening to some but not all families who want to return, concerns linger about accelerating inequities across the district, as well as plan for summer and fall.

April 18, WEST CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA – West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools (WCCSOS) – a group of parents, caregivers, students, educators, and community members from across West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) – is celebrating the reopening of school campuses for limited in-person hours this week as a critical first step toward the goal of a safe, full-time reopening for all students who wish to return.

“We are immensely grateful to the hardworking school staff, district staff, and school board members who labored through their spring break to prepare to reopen campuses to students, and we’re thrilled for the kids and families who get to return to school for the first time in more than a year” said Jennifer Peck, parent and WCCUSD community leader. “However we’re concerned by inequities we’re seeing in the return-to-school plan across school sites throughout the district, and we’re especially alarmed by the still unquantified number of families who wanted to come back but have been told there’s no space for them.”

Superintendent Matthew Duffy has reported that only 51% of certificated staff and 83% of classified staff have opted to participate in the voluntary return-to-school plan, and reports have emerged about a number of schools that have been forced to deny students, entire classes, or even entire grades the opportunity to return during the hours specified by the new MOU. In addition, school sites have adopted a range of return-to-school schedules and in-person offerings, resulting in an uneven and inequitable delivery of education to the more than 29,000 students across the 50 schools in the district.

“During the March 24th board meeting, Dr. Wold assured all of us many times that there would be space available for any family that wanted to return, and yet that is not the case,” said Carrie Hobbs Schulman, a parent at Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito. “My high-performing kindergartner has been invited to go back, while my struggling second grader has to remain in distance learning because his teacher isn’t returning and the district hasn’t yet found anyone to staff a hub.”

The district has reported that they are tracking the data on how many students requested to return, how many the district is able to serve, as well as the total number of students who requested but were denied participation. To ensure full transparency, WCC Safe Open Schools believes this information should be made public. Members of the group’s legal representation will be making a public information request to the district for this data to determine the number of students who have been denied the opportunity to return to school, as well as potential inequities in offerings.

WCC Safe Open Schools commends the efforts of WCCUSD board members who are going to great lengths to personally ensure the greatest possible success of the return to school plan. Trustees Reckler, Gonzalez-Hoy, and Christian have publicly committed to volunteering to supervise school site hubs at schools with staffing gaps to give more students the chance to return.

Looking ahead, WCC Safe Open Schools encourages the district to share information about the summer program that has been promised, beginning with including the plan for summer as an agenda item in the next public board meeting.

“After more than a year at home, I’m elated my kindergartener gets to have his first day of school on campus and experience his school in person, even for just two hours, three days a week,” said David Concepcion, parent in the district. “But with the lack of communication about the summer program and the number of families I know who’ve been denied the chance to go back, at this point, I am still very worried about the viability of full-time school in the fall.”

West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools believes:

  • Students in California have a fundamental right of equal access to an effective public education.  Distance Learning is not as effective as in-person instruction, by any means.
  • Distance Learning is having a devastating effect on student well-being.
  • Science and data show that schools can reopen safely for students, teachers, and staff when strong mitigation measures like masks, distancing, and hand washing are in place.
  • Distance Learning is disproportionately impacting marginalized students, including those with disabilities, English-language learners, and Black and Latino children, who make up a large proportion of students in WCCUSD.
  • Teachers and school staff should be a high priority for COVID vaccination.

For more information, contact:
Eliza Sarasohn or Jennifer Peck, West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools
wccsafeopenschools@gmail.com or on twitter @openwcc

###

Reopening

Spring In-Person Intervention & Instruction Plan

March 28, 2021
 
Here is our understanding of the March 25 In-Person Plan:
  • Optional intervention class for high-need students from 8-10am or 2-4pm on M,T,W
    • Will also have social emotional activities Thursdays and Fridays between 2-4
    • Estimated capacity of 1,400 students
    • Eligible families will be contacted by site administration and/or a School Community Outreach Worker
    • Students may be with different teacher and at different school
  • Optional in-school hubs on M-Th sometime between 10am to 3pm
    • Individual school sites will determine the days and times for each hub, and they could last anywhere from 2-4 hours per day
    • Due to staffing limitations, not all children who want to will be able to participate
    • Between schools there will be a wide range of how many students are able to participate and how much in-person learning they will receive
    • Primary plan is for students to be in groups of 15 kids with their current teacher and 1 “classified or other support provider”
      • Additional staff member will help since teacher will simultaneously be teaching in person and online
    • They will attempt to group kids with their current teacher, but there will also be overflow classes
    • If there is staff available, kids will be put in overflow class if their teacher does not volunteer to return or if class is full (higher-need kids prioritized for being with current teachers)
    • Thursday and Friday from 10-2 would have the same distance learning schedule that we are currently using
  • All teacher and student participation is voluntary
  • Dr Wold insists that this plan will qualify for the additional SB86 funds
    • In order to get the additional $9 million from SB 86, all students from all elementary grades, one junior high grade, and one high school grade must be given the option of in-person learning
    • This plan will only qualify for the additional funding if there is enough staff to support all of the students who want to return
  • Timeline:
    • On March 26, this plan was approved by 4 out 5 board member. Smith-Folds voted No.
    • Union voting will take place March 29 through April 2, and hopefully results will be announced before spring break
    • April 7th is the deadline for staff to return interest forms
    • April 14-16 teachers will personally contact all students within their cohort, with support from Admin as needed to reach all families
    • Students will need to start regularly attending on April 19 (no late starts)
    • We do not know the timing or method for families to indicate if they want to return
Recording of the 3/26 meeting where this plan was discussed and approved:
https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=727092431313675&ref=watch_permalink
Reopening, Safety

Science, Medicine, and Mental Health Professional Re-Opening Letter to WCCUSD

March 27, 2021

The attached letter reads in part:

Dear Superintendent Duffy, Associate Superintendent Wold, School Board Trustees, and President Marissa Glidden, President Sonja Neely-Johnson, Executive Directors Sue Kahn & Nona Cohen-Bowman, President Kim Chamberlain, Representatives Jeanette Bradfield, Shaune Vaughn, and Veronica Diaz:

We write as WCCUSD parents and as medical, public health and mental health professionals; epidemiologists; and scientists to ask that you open WCCUSD schools this spring to full-time in-person instruction for all students. Many of us have served on the front lines of the pandemic. We have seen its toll first-hand, and thanks to a world-wide effort, we now know how and where the coronavirus is spread, how to protect against it, and how to mitigate risk. Early in the pandemic, public health officials and governments were forced to make assumptions about the coronavirus based on observation and the behavior of other pathogens such as flu. Shutdowns, including school closures, were the best policy at the time and we commend the Bay Area and its school districts for making difficult decisions based on the available evidence. However, we now have the benefit of more than a year of peer-reviewed research to better inform our decisions. Scientific studies, epidemiology, and public health guidance have demonstrated that schools can be opened safely, and that the continued absence of in-person teaching and learning is harming children and families.

Read the rest of our evidence-based letter here.

Reopening

Attorney parents respond to District urging a return to the bargaining table for legally compliant MOU

March 22, 2021

The attached letter reads in part:

Dear Superintendent Duffy, Dr. Wold, and District Trustees:

We are all lawyers who are committed to supporting the public-school system and write this letter in our personal capacity—as WCCUSD parents—to express our deep concern about the tentative Voluntary Spring In-Person Intervention Plan (the “Plan”) between the District and its six labor unions (the “Unions”).

We appreciate that the District has been working hard to come up with an implementable plan that will be agreeable to its Unions while serving the critical needs of students. However, the legal infirmities in this tentative Plan are so abundant that the only rational explanation can be that the District has not had the benefit of legal counsel while negotiating the Plan. Thus, we feel compelled to inform you of these issues so that the District can make an informed decision to change course before it ratifies the Plan and faces a rush of litigation. We would much rather see the District’s limited resources put towards developing and implementing a legally sound plan than defending an unlawful one.

The following are just a few of the issues that we have identified upon our initial review of the Plan. Given the myriad issues with the Plan, we urge you to immediately return to the bargaining table with a meditator to negotiate a legally compliant Memorandum of Agreement (“MOU”) that (1) enables the District to capture all AB/SB 86 funds (2) incorporates the latest science around 3-foot distancing and cohorts of 14 children, and (3) does not violate the fundamental constitutional rights of the students in this district.

Read the full letter and download the PDF.

Reopening

Families call for rejection of tentative deal between WCCUSD and union representatives

March 21, 2021

March 20, WEST CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA – West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools (WCCSOS) – a group of parents, caregivers, students, and community members from across West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) – is encouraged by the district’s progress towards reopening school buildings, but frustrated by the tentative labor agreement announced late yesterday.

It is promising that the district and its unions are at the negotiating table trying to develop solutions that work for staff, students, and families. However, this tentative agreement does not meet students’ needs, and it is out of step with districts all around us that are already open or have robust spring plans. We call on the district to return to negotiations, with mediation to put students at the center of the conversation.

“This proposal does not give my Kindergartner any actual in-person instructional time with his teacher, who he has never met face to face. We, like other working parents all over the district, also have no way to get our kid to campus for 2 hours of after-care, not school,” said Ernesto Falcon, WCCSOS parent advocate.

The draft agreement appears not to meet the low bar set by Assembly/Senate Bill 86. This means the district is leaving $9 million in additional funding on the table, in a time when students and teachers alike are calling out for help. The draft agreement would leave too many students – especially teens – stuck on zoom at a moment when isolation and mental health issues have risen to frightening levels.

“We applaud the efforts of teachers and other staff during this tough school year, and stand with you as we figure out how to safely return to school buildings,” said Kelly Hardy, WCCSOS advocate and parent. WCCSOS is advocating for safe, in-person options this spring for all students who choose to return, given that public health authorities at every level agree school can be done safely, and educators are rapidly being vaccinated. Just yesterday, the CDC released new guidelines reflecting consensus around the safety of in-person school with 3 feet of distancing combined with other layers of protection such as masks and ventilation. WCCSOS also demands that the district plan now for a full opening in the fall, with five full days of in-person instruction for all students. 

West Contra Costa, a district of 29,000 students, is one of the last districts in the Bay Area to negotiate a reopening agreement. This draft plan must still be voted on by union members and brought to the WCCUSD School Board for approval on March 24. WCCOS is considering legal options to rectify the District’s apparent failure to serve the critical education needs of its students.

“I just want to get back to school like a normal kid,” said Omari Means, 3rd grader. “I don’t understand why kids at other schools get to go back and I don’t.”

Reopening

Tenatative Agreement MOU for Voluntary Spring In-Person Student Intervention Plan

March 21, 2021

Here is the complete MOU.  Here are some highlights:

  • “The District is following the guidelines of Social Distancing (CDPH) that strongly recommend a 6-foot radius between all individuals.” – page 3
  • “Most classrooms have a maximum capacity of 14 students to 1 adult based upon this guidance” – page 3
    • Given the above statement in the MOU, it is unclear why student cohorts will not exceed 10 students, especially given the new 3 ft guidance from the CDC
  • “Maintaining stable cohorts with increased flexibility for “piercing the bubble” while in the Red Tier allows specialists and paraprofessionals to join stable cohorts safely” – page 4
  • “SB 86 Funding is needed. The district needs the funds tied to compliance with SB86 to maintain staff, programs and services” – page 4
  • “Distance Learning shall remain the primary mode of instruction within the current schedule through the end of the regular 2020-21 school year” – page 4
  • “A focus on in-person Special Education assessments. Special education assessors have been unable to make eligibility determinations and thus meet IDEA requirements to identify students for special education and related services within required timelines. This is leading to legal liability for the district and may be leading to a delay in essential services to meet student learning needs” – page 5
  • “As this is a voluntary option, Certificated educators who are unable or unwilling to be vaccinated will not be eligible to participate in the Spring In-Person Support Program.” – page 6
  • “In addition, in an abundance of caution, the District will provide mandatory no-cost every other week asymptomatic/surveillance testing to ALL staff and students who participate in the Spring In Person Support Program during the Red Tier (4-10/100k daily new cases)” – page 6
  • “In the event that the certificated staff person responsible for a cohort is unable to be physically present, the cohort shall be cancelled for the day.” – page 7
  • “Cohorts will meet Monday-Wednesday and Fridays from 2pm to 4pm” – page 10
  • “Social Emotional/Small Group in-person activities may be scheduled on Fridays between 11am and 2pm and on Thursdays between 2pm and 4pm, provided that the activities do not conflict with Food Service Community Distribution” – page 10
  • “When creating cohorts, the number of adults, including support personnel, in the room will be calculated to ensure that at no time are there more than 11 individuals interacting as a stable cohort.” – page 11
  • “Music, VAPA, PE and other electives may have up to 30 students outdoors upon mutual agreement with the educator” – page 11
  • “Students may not be at their home site or with their teacher depending on facilities and availability of resources.” – page 11
  • All employees participating in this program or who are required to render in person services shall receive a 1-time stipend of $2500 based upon a start date of April 21, 2021 and prorated thereafter” – page 13
  • Upon qualification for AB86 funding, the District shall increase the COVID Service Stipend to all participating in the program by an additional $750 which shall be determined and certified by the District by June 1, 2021.” – page 13
  • “Employees participating in this program, who do not have other childcare options, may bring their school age child/children to work with them. Prior to beginning in-person support, the employee shall notify their administrator how many children they plan to bring with them.  The size of their cohort will be adjusted to ensure that cohorts remain small and stable in accordance with this agreement. ” – page 14
  • When possible, the district shall utilize District Babysitters to supervise the children of staff on site. In the event that a babysitter is not available at a given site, employees shall remain responsible for their own children at all times.” – page 14
Reopening

Families cautiously applaud first step to safely reopen schools in West Contra Costa Unified School District

March 5, 2021

 

Families cautiously applaud first step to safely reopen

schools in West Contra Costa Unified School District

Contact:
Jennifer Peck or Kelly Hardy
West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools
wccsafeopenschools@gmail.com or @openwcc

March 5, 2021, WEST CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA – Late last night, after a prolonged closed session, the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) board unanimously voted to direct district staff to begin reopening negotiations with the district’s 5 unions. This is a critical first step in creating an agreement for safely reopening schools.

West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools (WCCSOS) – a group of parents, caregivers, students, teachers, staff, and community members from across WCCUSD – is cautiously optimistic. WCCUSD Board President Phillips stated his support for in-person school for grades TK-6 for families who want it, and a limited number of students on campus for grades 7-12, by April 1. Trustee Gonzalez-Hoy said he wants the district to start by bringing students back in small cohorts, with teachers returning to the classroom on a voluntary basis. 

“This is good news and a pivotal step towards reopening. However, there’s still a lot of work to do, and we will continue watching carefully and speaking up until there’s a specific and transparent plan that puts kids first,” said Jennifer Peck, parent advocate with WCCSOS.  

The group is holding a rally today to continue to call for a limited spring reopening and a full fall opening of in-person classes. WCCUSD appears to be the only major district in the East Bay without a timeline or comprehensive plan for reopening.

“We simply can’t keep up with the demands of distance learning for our kindergartner and 1st grader much longer,” said Jesse Montano, WCCSOS advocate and dad of 2 students with IEPs. “I’m grateful that county leaders are working to offer vaccinations to teachers and staff, and that the board is responding to the needs of my kids and so many others.”

 

WHAT: Kids’ rally – reopening schools is an act of love!

WHO: West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools

WHEN: Friday, March 5, 2021, 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm

WHERE: All Corners of Cutting Blvd and San Pablo Avenue 

(El Cerrito Del Norte BART Station)

NOTES: Parents/caregivers and students will be available to speak to the media. 

Kids will be coloring signs that say “Reopening schools is an act of love.”

Reopening

A powerful example of how even a deeply challenged region was able to keep schools open.

February 23, 2021
Children participating in safe learning

What follows is a summary. Click to read the original article from The New York Times.

Providence provides a powerful example of how, with support from state leadership, even a deeply challenged region can keep schools open. It wasn’t easy; it wasn’t pretty; but they were able to provide in-person school for kids.

In September, Providence, a large, urban district of 22,600 students  in a blue state, not only opened its schools to in-person learning but also offered instruction five days a week to every elementary student, plus hybrid instruction to middle and high-school students whose parents chose to send them. (A separate virtual academy was set up for students whose parents preferred to keep them home.) 

The district is 68% Latino and 15% Black, and a dense metropolitan area, with extensive multigenerational housing. School infrastructure is in such grim condition that the Johns Hopkins review reported that the worst of the buildings “reduced seasoned members of the review team to tears.” 

Even with those concerns, since September the majority of the city’s kids could see their teachers and classmates, either every day or at least two days a week.

70 percent of Providence families chose to return their children to school by October and teachers showed up, though there wasn’t yet on-site testing or vaccines. (The state now offers asymptomatic, on-site testing at every school.)

They delayed the start of the fall opening by only 2 weeks to train. 

In one school, on the first day they were open a staff member tested positive, meaning that all those who had worked with her had to quarantine.  They were flustered but they hustled and found substitute administrators. Teachers were stressed but they showed up to work. 

Administrators acknowledged teachers concerns and empathized without wavering on the conviction to keep schools open.

Administrators and teachers alike came to recognize that, no matter how much they trained, they might have to generate new systems on the fly.

By the end of the first semester, it was not ideal: 22 percent of all in-person learners had at least one incomplete in a class. But the number was even worse for virtual learners, 37 percent of whom had at least one incomplete.

If a more transmissible variant takes hold in the United States, administrators and government leaders will have to take in the competing demands of their communities, to read the tolerance for risk, to try to calculate the cost of school closings — and determine whether creative, aggressive mitigation strategies can make it possible to provide in-person education.

Administrators in Rhode Island acknowledge many of the challenges of the past months, while maintaining that the effort was justified. There were times when some wished that the district had closed the school, if only because there was so much fear; but by now, they felt they could face most situations as they arose. “We know what to do,” they said; and they would keep doing it.

Reopening, Safety

Letter to Superintendent Duffy from local health-care professionals

February 19, 2021

A number of health care professionals from our area have helped write and sign a letter to superintendent Duffy and the board:

Dear Superintendent Duffy,

We write to you today as WCCUSD families and as public health and medical professionals. Since last March, many of us have been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and have firsthand experience with this disease. We know how to protect against it and we have battled it’s mental health and physical health impacts. We are asking you to open our public schools to full-time in-person education as soon as possible. We firmly believe the learning loss and mental health crisis we are witnessing compel urgent action.

As physicians, scientists, and public health professionals, we rely heavily on evidence and research to guide our practice. Early on, we assumed that children would be the primary drivers of viral spread. At that time, school closures seemed prudent. This assumption has since been disproven. It is now clear that schools can safely provide in-person instruction with appropriate safety measures in place. A recent report from the CDC affirms this fact.

Many schools across the nation have been open for months and we can learn from their experience. These data include similarly funded public districts with similar class sizes and disease prevalence higher than our own. Schools that have reopened successfully have implemented universal masking, basic hand hygiene, classroom ventilation, and physical distancing. These districts have proven that distancing of three feet when children are static such as desk time and eating is safe. Vaccinations, universal COVID testing, extensive infrastructure changes, and keeping children six feet apart are not required for a safe school environment.

As healthcare workers, we understand the fear of infection and transmission to our families and loved ones. We have witnessed the efficacy of universal masking and hand hygiene when working with known COVID-positive patients. We are eager to offer our collective experience in risk mitigation to support school reopening.

While even the best mitigation measures cannot guarantee absolute safety in schools, it is very clear that isolating children at home is not safe. Every day, we are treating more children with serious mental illnesses. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland has seen a doubling of the number of children requiring mental health services from 2019 to 2020 and a 75% increase in the number of children requiring immediate hospitalization for mental health crises. There has been a 130% increase in the number of adolescents hospitalized for eating disorders. Our local pediatric psychiatric hospital beds are full and children are waiting days in Emergency Departments for beds to open up. The sad truth is that this may be the tip of the iceberg and these numbers likely represent the “lucky” ones that are reaching out for help. In public health and medicine, there are always trade-off’s between one risk and another. For the vast majority of students, the benefits of in-person school greatly outweigh the risks.

Remote learning has been a disaster, especially for disadvantaged students. Many children have been “lost” to the system and those that are attending aren’t learning much. A Stanford study found that the average student has fallen behind a third of a year in reading and three quarters of a year in math. This is not surprising. Their current virtual school schedule is 13 and a half hours a week compared to 29 hours a week pre- pandemic. It is clear that this situation has disproportionately impacted poor and black and brown students. Moreover, this affects women disproportionately, as they provide the majority of childcare, often at the expense of their careers.

Parents with resources have augmented what is available with tutors, extra books, and supplemental on-line classes. Many have fled public schools altogether for private schools that have opened in-person instruction.

We implore you to make every effort to reopen schools now, with a clear goal of having kids in school five days a week with normal school hours.

Specifically, we are asking you to:

1. Commit to fully re-open schools for in-person instruction.

2. Put a computer with a camera in the classroom so students that elect to attend school virtually or students that are ill or in quarantine can participate.

3. Enforce public health recommendations to open the schools as the CDC and California Department of Public Health guidelines dictate.

4. Commit to transparency and accountability so that teachers and families can trust that their safety needs will be met.

5. Promote facts and good science in your own communications rather than giving equal time to various fear based or political views. Address legitimate fears with evidence-based facts.

Our children are watching to see if we will live up to the values we espouse. Their future depends on our ability to do so.

Sincerely,

Christine O’Brien, MD
Sophia Chen
Jennifer Bodnick, MD
Marlena Tang, MD
Brian Lin, MD
Peter Emblad, MD
Jimmy Choi, MD
Kai Romero MD
Corinne McLeary, MD
Scott Guyon, MD
Prakash Ramsinghani, MD
Adrian Flores, MD MPH
Beth Mulcahy, MD
Lisa Wu, MD

Reopening

State metric for reopening K-6 schools was met in Contra Costa County today

February 10, 2021
Mother putting a face mask on her daughter

Families call for swift action to safely reopen schools in West Contra Costa Unified School District

State metric for reopening K-6 schools was met in Contra Costa County today

February 10, 2021, WEST CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA – West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools (WCCSOS) – a group of parents, caregivers, students, and community members from across West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) – called for the school district, county, and state leaders to prioritize kids and move quickly to safely open schools.

Today, Contra Costa County met the state threshold to allow K-6 schools with approved safety plans to open for in-person instruction. Other districts are reopening, and 9 of the 18 public districts have submitted safety plans to the county. However, all 28,000 WCCUSD students are still in distance learning, and the district has not completed a comprehensive reopening plan and has not set a timeline.

WCCSOS recently delivered a letter with nearly 500 signatures to the WCCUSD board and Superintendent urging the implementation of a realistic, detailed plan for reopening, developed with input from teachers, staff, administrators, families, and students. The plan must build trust, especially in the most underserved schools and communities, that facilities and protocols are being made ready to safely welcome students and staff back in person. The hard-working staff in our district need concrete evidence that WCCUSD leadership is leveraging state and federal funds to ensure schools are ready.

“Our two-parent working household simply can’t keep up with the demands of distance learning for our kindergartner and first grader. Both kids have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and engaging with a screen is exhausting for them despite their teachers’ best efforts. We can’t keep this up for much longer,” said Jesse Montano, a parent advocate with WCCSOS.

Distance learning has resulted in decreased enrollment and increased chronic absence within WCCUSD. The largest enrollment drops were in Kindergarten (10%), 7th grade (5%), and 9th grade (5%). Chronic absence increased by 2% overall, jumping by 19% among Black students and 18% among Native American/Alaskan students.

“My 11th grader normally excels at school and used to think about what colleges he should apply to. Now, he just hopes to have enough credits to graduate high school,” said Kellie MacLaren, parent of two and WCCSOS advocate.

West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools believes:

  • Public schools are an essential service, providing necessary academic, emotional, and social support to thousands of young people across the
  • School closures are having a devastating effect on student well-being.
  • Science and data show that schools can reopen safely for students, teachers, and staff when strong mitigation measures like masks, distancing, and hand washing are in place.
  • School closures are disproportionately impacting marginalized students, including those with disabilities, English-language learners, and Black and Latino children, who make up a large proportion of students in WCCUSD.
  • Teachers and school staff should be a high priority for COVID vaccination.

Public health consensus, including recent guidance from the Harvard Global Health Institute and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), shows that schools can reopen safely. The CDC went as far as recommending that K-12 schools should be “the last settings to close…and the first to reopen.”

Unfortunately, the district’s current memorandum of understanding (MOU) with employee labor unions was negotiated at the start of the school year without any input from county health experts, relying on outdated recommendations that the

authors of the guidance themselves have since completely updated. WCCSOS urges the district to adapt to the evolving situation and revisit the MOU. Our kids should not bear the brunt of an outdated labor agreement.

“I haven’t been on campus since March 2020. I miss my friends, I miss sports, I miss seeing people, I miss being in a classroom … I also think about the kids who are homeless, in foster care, or have disabilities — how are they surviving this? Kids are frustrated. My teachers have been great but I would love to safely go back to school. We should be able to have some normalcy and memories beyond zoom,” said Leila Haile, an 8th grade student.

Contact:

West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools

wccsafeopenschools@gmail.com