27 Jan Teachers Demand Increased COVID Safety Measures, Threaten Strike
By Julia Métraux
With threat of a strike by members of the United Teachers of Richmond looming, COVID-19 safety concerns remained a central focus at Wednesday’s West Contra Costa Board of Education meeting.
United Teachers of Richmond consists of nearly 1,700 teachers, counselors, psychologists, speech pathologists and nurses in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. UTR is asking for opt-in rather than opt-out COVID-19 testing, biweekly COVID-19 testing for classes with three or more positive cases, and KN95 masks for all teachers, staff and students. If the union and the district do not reach an agreement by Friday, 72% of WCCUSD teachers polled said they supported a strike, according to the Mercury News.
Trustee Jamela Smith-Folds spoke in favor of the board doing much more to support teachers, staff, parents and students, many of whom she said lost trust with the board over shortcomings when it comes to COVID-19 safety procedures.
“This board did not allow for or demand that we adjust our expectations of what we want, need, or require from staff,” Smith-Folds. “Teachers are destroying themselves trying to make it like it was. It’s impossible.”
During public comment, many teachers spoke about how the method of collapsing classes is already backfiring.
“We had to quarantine all of third grade because the students got mixed together in one room due to the staffing shortage,” said Sam Cleare, a third-grade teacher at Stege Elementary School in Richmond. “Now take a moment and if you are a caretaker for children, ask yourself, ‘Would you let your loved ones learn and work in these conditions?’ ”
In a presentation on changes that the district is making in COVID-19 protocols, WCCUSD disaster preparedness and safety consultant Michael Booker said the district will move from close contact tracing to group tracing.
Under group tracing, schools should notify everyone who has spent more than 15 minutes indoors within a 24-hour period with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
“For example, if there was a classroom and there’s a positive case in a classroom, everybody in that classroom is considered an exposure,” Booker said.
Parents, students, and teachers have previously raised concerns that they are not being told about COVID-19 exposures in classrooms.
Recognizing Fred Korematsu Day
The school board unanimously passed a motion to recognize Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 signed a bill establishing Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, to be held annually Jan. 30.
Korematsu, who died in 2005 at the age of 86, was born in Oakland in 1919 and was the child of Japanese immigrants. Korematsu was a civil rights activist who resisted going to a Japanese internment camp during World War II and was arrested for refusing.
“The Japanese internment was not included in any World War II history when I was in school,” trustee Leslie Reckler said. “I’m proud that this has been recognized and incorporated into the curriculum.”
The board of education also unanimously approved a motion that recognized Jan. 17 as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Trustee Smith-Folds asked that motions for recognizing certain days be brought to the board before that day.
Appointing Members to the 7-11 Committee
The 7-11 Committee was established to gain insights in identifying the best value and use for underutilized district properties. On May 5, 2021, the school board approved the district to advertise the committee and look for applicants.
The board voted unanimously to appoint people to the 7-11 Committee, which then officially launched the committee. Mister Phillips thanked members of the community who volunteered to serve.
“You are doing a great service to this community, and anything else that we can do within reason to balance our books and to get additional income and to this district, we should do,” Phillips said.
This was the first meeting for student trustees Martin Leung and Angelica Flores. Clerk Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy announced that WCCUSD superintendent Kenneth “Chris” Hurst would address the validity of board president Otheree Christian’s appointment at the next meeting.