Seven people in virtual meeting

WCCUSD Delays COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Students 12 and Up

Seven people in virtual meeting

WCCUSD students 12 and up now have until Feb. 18 to prove they are vaccinated against COVID-19 to keep attending school in person, the board of education decided Wednesday. (Screenshot captured by Julia Métraux / Richmond Pulse)

By Julia Métraux

In its last regular meeting of 2021, the West Contra Costa Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to move the deadline to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in in-person learning for students 12 and older to Feb. 18.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District said does not have the resources in Vista’s Virtual Academy to accommodate the hundreds, if not thousands, of students who did not upload proof of vaccination by the original Jan. 3 deadline.

“We’re seeing that we don’t have the capacity to educate the children of this district,” trustee Jamela Smith-Folds said. “We need to have that capacity.”

Vista’s Virtual Academy is the only WCCUSD school that can give remote instruction as of last night’s meeting. Trustee Mister Phillips asked if it was possible for all schools in the district to also become virtual schools.

“I think it could allow us to move forward, even with a mandate, even though there are issues around hiring and even just having enough teachers to hire due to the shortage,” Phillips said.

Superintendent Kenneth “Chris” Hurst said his office could explore that option. Both Smith-Folds and Phillips, while they voted to move the deadline, expressed concerns that the school board will face the same issues in February.

Since the Dec. 8 meeting, around 1,500 students have uploaded a copy of their COVID-19 vaccination record or brought them to school. The district will soon send out postcards with instructions on how to upload a copy of their COVID-19 vaccination card.

Associate superintendent LaResha Martin believes that having a raffle for vaccinated students may have encouraged people to submit their COVID-19 vaccination records.

“They also identified that the raffle and the incentivizing has actually helped,” Martin said. “I think it’s promoted students [to] actually just turn in the information because they believe that there are students who have the vaccinations but have not submitted documentation.”

Student trustee Justin Trujillo was absent from the meeting.

New President of the Board Elected

Wednesday’s meeting was also the annual organization meeting. Members of the school board voted on a new president, clerk and secretary.

Trustee Otheree Christian was elected as the new president, trustee Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy was elected as the new clerk, and superintendent Hurst was confirmed to continue as the secretary.

During the public comment period, which followed these votes, several members of the public expressed their concerns that bylaws were not followed in these elections. Per the West Contra Costa Board of Education’s bylaws, the clerk would become the president, except in exceptional circumstances. Smith-Folds was the clerk before the election of Gonzalez-Hoy at this meeting.

“What we all just witnessed was the board intentionally ignoring their own policy without justification,” Vista High School teacher Carole Peters said. “Bylaws are a legal binding document. Board governance standards state that you will hold yourself to the highest ethical conduct.”

Bylaws concerning the election of the president have previously been disregarded by the West Contra Costa Board of Education. When Phillips was the clerk from 2018 to 2019, he was passed over by the board to become the president.

Superintendent Asks Community to Stop Spreading Misinformation About Student’s Death

During the public comment period, multiple parents said they were against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, in part due to the death of a 10-year-old in the district they claimed died from adverse events of the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Tuesday, Hurst sent out a letter to the WCCUSD community sharing that 10-year-old Guadalupe “Lupita” Canchola, a fourth grader at Grant Elementary School in Richmond, died of natural causes Dec. 4. Canchola had not received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Hurst.

“These rumors are false, and the family is asking that the rumors cease immediately,” Hurst said. “It’s important to support Lupita’s family. Any rumors about her cause of death are hurtful and distressing to the family and school community.”

The next regular board of education meeting is scheduled for Jan. 12.

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