Coalition urges WCCUSD to resume in-person learning

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Nystrom Elementary in Richmond

With Contra Costa County today meeting the threshold to allow K-6 schools to reopen for in-person instruction with approved safety plans, a coalition of parents, caregivers, students and community members are calling for the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) to quickly and safely open schools.

The group, called West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools (WCCSOS), said it recently sent a letter with nearly 500 signatures to the WCCUSD board and superintendent urging a reopening plan be implemented with input from all stakeholders.

“All 28,000 WCCUSD students are still in distance learning, and the district has not completed a comprehensive reopening plan and has not set a timeline,” the group states, adding that district data shows decreases in enrollment and increases in chronic absenteeism amidst distance learning.

The call comes one week after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky publicly stated that “increasing data” suggests schools can reopen safely and that “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools.”

In his weekly update Friday, WCCUSD Superintendent Matthew Duffy echoed the concerns of families and said the district will aim to be more transparent on what it has been doing to plan for reopening.

“As of today (Feb. 5), we do not have a hard and fast date to reopen our schools this spring as part of the 20-21 school year,” Duffy said, adding the district aims to share a comprehensive plan in the next few weeks.

The district is holding additional study sessions on the topic on Monday, Feb. 22, and Friday, Feb. 26, he said.

Duffy said the district has made gains on preparing school facilities for reopening with air filtration improvements, optimized spaces, hand sanitizing stations, contract tracing software and procurement and storage of personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and shields.

However, a reopening dashboard established as part of a memorandum of understanding between the WCCUSD and the union representing its 1,700 educators currently states that only two of the nine criteria agreed upon for returning to in-person learning have been met.

In the wake of new data from experts, the WCCSOS urged the district and United Teachers of Richmond to revisit the memorandum of understanding, calling the agreement “outdated.”

Duffy urged calm and cooperation as new data on COVID’s impact on schools come to light.

“Let’s not polarize what we have heard or learned,” he said, adding everyone has the same goal. “The only way we are going to get through this pandemic is together. We all want the same thing — the safety and well-being of students, loved ones, and ourselves.”