Parents to rally to reopen WCCUSD schools on anniversary of closures

Parents to rally to reopen WCCUSD schools on anniversary of closures
Photo from a past rally to reopen schools courtesy of West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools.

A coalition of parents, caregivers, students and community members who are calling for the reopening of West Contra Costa School District (WCCUSD) schools for in-person learning plan to rally at Nicholl Park in Richmond on Saturday, which will mark the 1-year anniversary of school building closures.

The group, called West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools, is calling for WCCUSD “to prioritize kids and (1) move quickly to safely open schools in-person this spring, in small, voluntary pilots at the very least and for all grades, and (2) immediately commit to developing a plan for full in-person reopening in fall 2021.”

The rally is set to take place from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the park at Macdonald Avenue and 33rd Street. Elected officials are set to attend along with an information table on how eligible people, including educators and school staff, can get COVID-19 vaccines, organizers said. A moment of silence commemorating those have died from COVID-19, along with a “collective scream on the street,” is planned at 2 p.m.

“WCCUSD is one of the last districts that has yet to reopen or even have a comprehensive plan and timeline to reopen this spring, leaving its 28,000 students distance learning indefinitely for the rest of the school year,” the coalition said in a statement.

The group noted WCCUSD took a first step of directing staff to begin labor negotiations, but said it wanted more assurance of not only a spring but a fall reopening plan.  Vaccinations and research suggest schools with proper mitigation measures have been able to safely reopen, the coalition states.

Last week, the district’s Board of Trustees directed staff to negotiate with labor unions on reopening, WCCUSD Superintendent Matthew Duffy said in a statement Friday.

“The news came on the heels of Gov. Newsom and the state legislature agreeing on a $6.4 billion deal to assist districts with bringing back students to in-person instruction,” Duffy said. “The state set guidelines for districts to qualify for a portion of the one-time funding ($2 billion) with an April 1 deadline.”

In their own statement Friday, Trustees Jamela Smith-Folds and Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy said they hope conditions in the county, where COVID-19 case rates are improving but remain widespread, per the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, will allow for some type of reopening in spring. The trustees would “also like to see a robust summer and fall hybrid program in all of our schools.”

“It’s critical that we involve our labor partners in the creation of plans,” they said. “They have the expertise and knowledge about what our sites need, what they need to be safe, and what is needed to keep our students as safe as possible. We must also include our families and community-based organizations.”

Duffy touted progress in preparing for a return to campus, including installation of social distance markers, hand sanitizing stations and plexiglass barriers in offices.

“We are also limiting occupancy in restrooms, the number of people in classrooms, and altering water fountains,” Duffy said. “We are installing HEPA air filters in areas that need them and encouraging staff to utilize windows.”

Duffy said he personally walked through Grant Elementary to ensure measures were in place, including proper personal protective equipment and signage.

“We will communicate any updates we can, related to negotiations,” Duffy added.

For Leila Haile, an 8th grade student, the reopening of schools can’t come soon enough. She says she misses her friends, sports and being in a classroom.

“I also think about the kids who are homeless, in foster care, or have disabilities — how are they surviving this?  Kids are frustrated,” Haile said. “My teachers have been great but I would love to safely go back to school. We should be able to have some normalcy and memories beyond zoom.”