Eight people in a virtual meeting

KN95 Masks on the Way for WCCUSD Students as COVID-19 Cases Continue to Rise

Eight people in a virtual meeting

The West Contra Costa school board heard concerns about the district response to COVID-19 and the board itself during its meeting Wednesday. (Screenshot captured by Julia Métraux / Richmond Pulse)

By Julia Métraux

Superintendent Kenneth “Chris” Hurst discussed the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s COVID-19 situation and substitute teacher pay before the board of education Wednesday.

As of Jan. 18, only around 53% of the 12,389 WCCUSD students 12 and older have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The deadline to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to continue to attend in-person schooling under the current COVID-19 vaccine mandate is Feb. 18.

At last week’s meeting, Hurst shared that staff receives two KN95 masks per week. Surgical masks are currently available for students, and KN95 masks should be available for students too once they arrive in five to ten days. Hurst also said that the executive team is listening to concerns from the community.

“I definitely need to say that the message or the message by some that’s being shared that we are not listening is just simply not accurate,” Hurst said. “All of our employees work extremely hard, including our leaders at the district office and including our executive team.”

During the public comment session at the beginning of the meeting, several teachers spoke about their concerns about working conditions as COVID-19 cases rise.

>>>Read: Students and Teachers Express Concern Over District’s Handling of Omicron Surge

On the day of the meeting, 32 teachers from Richmond High School participated in a “sickout” due to a surge of COVID-19 cases, and the need for more PPE and better ventilation. Richmond High had its 114th confirmed COVID-19 case since Jan. 3 as of yesterday.

“I want to remind you all tonight about the poor structural conditions at Richmond High School that are only exacerbated during COVID,” said Richmond High School teacher Luis Chacon, who did not share whether or not he participated in the sickout. “We also have no outdoor picnic tables for students to eat, so all the eating happens indoors.”

Last night’s meeting also marked the end of the term for fall semester trustees Justin Trujillo and Irene Kou.

Concerns about December Elections

A petition has been circulating among parents, students, teachers and other community members asking that the West Contra Board of Education elevate trustee Jamela Smith-Folds to the position of president. The board’s bylaws state that the clerk, which was previously Smith-Folds, would become president, except under extenuating circumstances. As of Thursday, the petition has over 280 signatures.

“The bylaw policy is to build upon the experience and the knowledge of trustees and to give them leadership training to take over the board and to lead the board in an informed way,” Audrey Shields said during public comment. “The right thing and the decent thing and the respectful thing to do at this point is for him [Otheree Christian] to step down.”

Strategies for Attracting More Substitute Teachers

Due to both teacher shortages and also absences due to COVID-19, the WCCUSD is looking into more ways to attract substitute teachers to the district. Currently, WCCUSD schools offer regular substitute teachers $190 per day, while nearby districts like Oakland Unified School District give substitute teachers $300 per day.

>>>Read: ‘We … Put Ourselves Last’: Former WCCUSD Teachers on Why They Left the Classroom

WCCUSD Interim Associate Superintendent of Business Services Robert McEntire said that the recommendation was to increase substitute pay to $245 as a short-term rate per day.

“I don’t think that any of us would have any problem with raising the rate temporarily if we’re actually going to the school sites, and we’re actually seeing the impact of not having bodies, adult bodies there for our kids,” trustee Demetrio Gonzalez Hoy said.

Smith-Folds agreed with Gonzalez Hoy, and she added that the district needs to listen to the concerns of both teachers and substitutes, which includes issues with building safety.

“We need to treat both teachers and subs respectfully, so they want to come back,” Smiths-Folds said. “We need to talk about the facilities. We have subs and once they come into some of our facilities, they don’t want to come back because of their own issues with safety.” 

The next board of education meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26.

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