Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do you want to re-open schools for in-person classes immediately?
A: No. We want district leadership to move as quickly as possible to prepare (logistics and facilities) to be READY to safely re-open as soon as state guidelines are met. Staff, teachers, and families have raised important concerns about ventilation, ability to maintain distancing within classrooms, availability of free personal protective equipment (PPE), and basic sanitation supplies like hand soap. Those concerns need to be addressed starting *right now* so that schools can be ready by the time state guidelines are met. Waiting until guidelines are met and then beginning to get schools ready is a recipe for disaster, and will keep our schools closed longer than necessary.
Q: Can schools open safely?
A: Yes, with the right facility preparation, equipment, and protocols in place. A January 26, 2021 CDC summary of available data says in part:
“Planning for the 2020/2021 school year included much uncertainty about the risk of transmission in school settings. While the benefits of in-person school attendance were well understood, the appropriate evaluation of its risks vs benefits was hampered by limited information about transmission risk in classroom settings. Closing schools could adversely affect students’ academic progress, mental health, and access to essential services; however, if SARS-CoV-2 rapidly spread in classrooms, opening schools might accelerate community transmission of the virus. There were no
simple decisions for parents, teachers, administrators, or public officials. As many schools have reopened for in-person instruction in some parts of the US as well as internationally, school-related cases of COVID-19 have been reported, but there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
This CDC summary is not an unqualified endorsement of in-person learning at any cost; it is a carefully considered balance of risks versus benefits.
Q: Would a re-opening plan include an option for families who want their students to continue with distance learning?
A: Yes, WCCUSD is working to open a fully virtual school. Every re-opening plan that we have seen from other school districts includes a method for allowing families to keep students in distance learning.
Q: How is the pandemic impacting communities of color?
A: Communities of color and low-income communities are suffering the most from the COVID pandemic, with the highest percentage of infections due largely to more exposure at work. The rollout of the vaccine has also been slower in Black and Brown communities, due to structural racism in the health care system. Key equity groups have also called out the disproportionate impact of prolonged distance learning on students of color. For example, see this poll from Ed Trust-West (an Oakland-based education equity organization):
“The transition to distance learning is having a real impact on families and students, and nowhere is that unprecedented impact more pronounced than among families of color,” said Dr. Elisha Smith Arrillaga, Executive Director of The Education Trust–West. “Parents of color have critical concerns about their students, whose stress levels are rising.”
Q: Why do you refer to the “state guidelines” on COVID for re-opening schools? What about the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement that the district signed with the 5 teacher/staff/administrator unions?
A: The “Health & Safety” MOU is in place for the 2020-2021 school year unless it is amended by the district or invalidated by state law or a lawsuit. The MOU establishes very strict metrics for when schools can reopen that were not reviewed by the Contra Costa County health officer and include metrics that Contra Costa Health Services cannot measure. We have been told that those metrics were based on metrics from the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI). In fact, in July 2020 the HGHI recommended that Pre-K through 8th grade could open for in-person learning when there were less than 25 cases per 100,000 (NOT less than 10 cases per 100,000, the criteria in the WCCUSD MOU). In December 2020, HGHI significantly revised its recommendations, stating in part:
“We now have scientific evidence, including from school openings around the world, that shows that younger children are less likely to get infected and that school openings for this age group do not substantially contribute to community transmission … Although community spread metrics serve as important pieces of information, it is recommended that schools focus on rates of in-school transmission and metrics for the quality of infection control.”
Item 9 in the WCCUSD MOU says: “When these criteria are met, the parties shall meet to establish the timeline for safe return for all staff and students.” It does not preclude preparation of facilities and logistics for safe return, as these do not comprise a “timeline.”
Since the MOU includes metrics that Contra Costa Health Services cannot measure, and regardless it expires in June 2021, we believe it makes sense to use the state guidelines as a way to understand how far the district is from a reasonable re-opening point so that a comprehensive safety plan can be created.
Q: How many families want to keep their kids in distance learning?
A: The truth is that no one knows how many families want one option or another. The district sent out a survey to families in December, but not all families responded, and the questions were incomplete. Most importantly, there was no option to follow the state guidelines by re-opening schools when Contra Costa County reaches the “red tier” of infection rates. Flawed though it was, the survey showed an important desire for in-person classes:
- 17% of parents want their kids to return to in-person classes immediately
- 34% of parents want their kids to return in-person when community spread is lower and/or vaccines or widely available
- 35% of parents want to stay in distance learning until fall 2021
- 14% are undecided
Interpreting these results by stating that “only 17% of families want to return to in-person school” is misleading and false. For the full information about this survey, please see this presentation prepared by WCCUSD staff: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1H3SIAKZRrw-y7p4DOGaGfC3WPKuKn7zZ/view . Slide 9 is the most important slide from that presentation:
Q: How are students doing during distance learning?
A: Some students are doing very well! However, many are not. See for example:
“The number of students with computing devices has improved, with fall 2020 estimates showing a 12 percentage point increase for households with school-age children as compared to the spring.1 But the disparities in access to a reliable internet connection for most student groups, including Latinx and low-income households, remain mostly unchanged.2 A Legislative Analyst’s Office analysis highlights the same inequities in broadband adoption rates between low-income households (53%) and higher-income households (86%) even before the pandemic.” Distance Learning & the Digital Divide: Opportunity Gap Grows for California K-12 Students
“Our findings show that distance learning has widened gaps for children of color, children in low-income families, and children of less-educated parents.” Who Is Losing Ground with Distance Learning in California?
WCCUSD data regarding enrollment trends and chronic absence show that the district is experiencing the same problems as the rest of the state — significant drops in enrollment, (especially for Black and Pacific Islander students, and especially in Kindergarten, 7th grade, and 9th grade), and major problems with chronic absence (with chronic absence rates of 25-33% for 7th-12th grades, and the largest increase in chronic absence among Black students). Attendance Review and Next Steps, January 13, 2021 WCCUSD Board Meeting.
“Beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children’s mental health–related ED visits among all pediatric ED visits increased and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health–related visits for children aged 5–11 and 12–17 years increased approximately 24%. and 31%, respectively.” Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Visits Among Children Aged <18 Years During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January 1–October 17, 2020
Q: How are teachers/school staff doing during distance learning?
A: WCCUSD teachers and staff are working VERY hard to provide students with the best education possible. We know that teachers are stretched thin right now, especially those with students of their own learning from home.
Q: Can children get and transmit the COVID virus?
A: Chris Farnitano (Contra Costa Health Services’ Officer), Dr. George Rutherford (UCSF professor of Epidemiology, Preventive Medicine, Pediatrics & head of Division of Infectious Disease and Global Epidemiology), and Dr. Jeanne Noble (UCSF Director of COVID Response) all agree that kids are less likely to get infected or spread COVID-19. That doesn’t mean that it is impossible for children to spread the virus, which is why we are pushing for a comprehensive safety plan to use state and federal dollars to get our schools ready.
Q: When other schools in California or across the world have opened this school year, have there been positive cases of COVID in schools?
A: Positive test cases found in schools do not indicate transmission occurred at the school. There have been some positive cases, but they are largely related to community spread, meaning that a student or school staff member was infected with the virus outside of school. According to the CDC and other health experts, when schools faithfully implement safety measures such as masks, distancing, ventilation, and breaks or some classes held outdoors when possible, virus transmission at school sites is extremely low. The California Department of Public Health has gathered a summary of this evidence here.
Q: When I look at the Contra Costa Health Services Coronavirus Dashboard, why is the COVID rate in my city different than the county-wide average at the top of the page?
A: The “Cases by Location” table does not include a single day average. To compare your city to the county-wide average, you must divide the “Cases Last 14 Days per 100,000” by 14. For example, if Richmond is 336, the single day average is 336 / 14 = 24.