01 Sep WCCUSD Board Hears COVID-19 Update Following Return to School
(Screenshot captured by Edward Booth / Richmond Pulse)
By Edward Booth
With in-person school starting up earlier this month, the West Contra Costa Board of Education met Aug. 25 to hear a lengthy update on how WCCUSD schools are currently operating from district staff.
Most of the discussion centered around COVID-19 adaptations the district made for the return to school. District staff talked about the district’s COVID-19 response and safety plan, virtual school option, staffing and more. Superintendent Kennth Hurst also said during the meeting that the district is considering a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that would require everyone eligible in the district to get the vaccine.
Michael Booker, the district’s disaster preparedness and safety consultant, talked directly about the district’s COVID-19 testing program and contact tracing procedures. Booker said the district had given each school site an allotment of COVID-19 tests that they can use at any time for symptomatic students and staff.
Booker also said Predicine Laboratories is carrying out weekly COVID-19 tests at district schools on the weekdays, and the district has a rapid response team, which can administer testing on any school site within half an hour. And though testing capacity isn’t 100%, Booker added, Predicine is working to add more staff and more testing.
“So when you look at these procedures, it’s something that no other district is doing,” Booker said. “I think it’s unique in the fact that we not only have administered testing but we also have self-testing if needed. But we wanted to make it to where we could respond in a multitude of different ways.”
He said the district immediately isolates any positive cases at a designated space at their school. The principal will then contact the district’s COVID response team, which decides how to quarantine close contacts.
“The positive case would be quarantine for the ten-day period,” Booker said. “As far as adults go, if they’re vaccinated and nonsymptomatic, they would be allowed to continue in that classroom.”
Tracey Logan, chief technology officer, said the district’s COVID-19 dashboard is updated Monday each week, and it reflects data from the prior week. The dashboard also contains breakdowns by site of student and staff cases and the overall percentage of vaccinated staff, she said. As of last week, Logan added, 75% of staff had reported their vaccination status and 93% were fully vaccinated.
According to the dashboard, there were 72 positive cases in the district last week, 65 being student cases. That’s an increase from the 18 cases reported the previous week.
Chief academic officer LaResha Martin filled in the board about the district’s virtual school, known as the Vista Virtual Academy, which was established this year to give students a distance learning option.
Martin said 251 students had officially enrolled in the school by Aug. 23, and that district staff was asking enrollment to be capped at 350 because of a staffing shortage. Currently, she said, roughly 300 students are on the waitlist, so the school will add 99 students and then close enrollment.
The virtual school, Martin said, was originally designed for three teachers and 75 students, but there was a higher demand than expected because California required a return to in-person learning for most students this year. Four new teachers are in the process of being onboarded, she added.
“The other students will remain on the waitlist as we resolve the staffing shortage,” Martin said. “As teachers become available, we will look at increasing enrollment beyond 350.”
Marci Williams, chief personnel officer, said the district has hired 234 certificated staff members since May and has 22 pending offers for teachers in the process of onboarding. But the district still needs more teachers, she said, and is considering ways to attract candidates.
And, Williams said, the need for teachers is on top of 62 average daily absences of certified staff, and 40 long-term leaves of absence.
“When we start to hire external candidates in May and June, we’re already too late,” Williams said. “There is a national teacher shortage, as well as a teacher shortage in California.”
Tony Wold, associate superintendent of business services, said students shouldn’t come to school if they have symptoms of COVID-19, but otherwise, the district does want everyone at school. He said enrollment has fallen by about 1,700 from the start of the 2019-20 school year, which may have future implications for district funding because it is tied to enrollment. (The state is currently funding schools based on pre-pandemic enrollment.)
“We’re here, we’re ready to serve, and we’re in-person,” Wold said. “We’ll continue our outreach focusing on canvasing to make sure we find everyone who is out there. We’re going to continue with our restorative restart, the outreach we’re asking teachers to continue focusing on, and we’ll continue to focus on those 1,700 students who have not yet returned to try to get everyone back into our campuses.”