West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools released a response to a tentative labor agreement reached between the school district and its employee unions on reopening plans. The group’s statement follows in full:
West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools (WCCSOS) – a group of parents, caregivers, students, and community members from across West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) – is encouraged by the district’s progress towards reopening school buildings, but frustrated by the tentative labor agreement announced late yesterday.
It is promising that the district and its unions are at the negotiating table trying to develop solutions that work for staff, students, and families. However, this tentative agreement does not meet students’ needs, and it is out of step with districts all around us that are already open or have robust spring plans. We call on the district to return to negotiations, with mediation to put students at the center of the conversation.
“This proposal does not give my Kindergartner any actual in-person instructional time with his teacher, who he has never met face to face. We, like other working parents all over the district, also have no way to get our kid to campus for 2 hours of after-care, not school,” said Ernesto Falcon, WCCSOS parent advocate.
The draft agreement appears not to meet the low bar set by Assembly/Senate Bill 86. This means the district is leaving $9 million in additional funding on the table, in a time when students and teachers alike are calling out for help. The draft agreement would leave too many students – especially teens – stuck on zoom at a moment when isolation and mental health issues have risen to frightening levels.
“We applaud the efforts of teachers and other staff during this tough school year, and stand with you as we figure out how to safely return to school buildings,” said Kelly Hardy, WCCSOS advocate and parent. WCCSOS is advocating for safe, in-person options this spring for all students who choose to return, given that public health authorities at every level agree school can be done safely, and educators are rapidly being vaccinated. Just yesterday, the CDC released new guidelines reflecting consensus around the safety of in-person school with 3 feet of distancing combined with other layers of protection such as masks and ventilation. WCCSOS also demands that the district plan now for a full opening in the fall, with five full days of in-person instruction for all students.
West Contra Costa, a district of 29,000 students, is one of the last districts in the Bay Area to negotiate a reopening agreement. This draft plan must still be voted on by union members and brought to the WCCUSD School Board for approval on March 24. WCCOS is considering legal options to rectify the District’s apparent failure to serve the critical education needs of its students.
“I just want to get back to school like a normal kid,” said Omari Means, 3rd grader. “I don’t understand why kids at other schools get to go back and I don’t.”
West Contra Costa Safe Open Schools believes:
- Public schools are an essential service, providing necessary academic, emotional, and social support to thousands of young people across the district.
- School closures are having a devastating effect on student well-being.
- Science and data show that schools can reopen safely for students, teachers, and staff when strong mitigation measures like masks, distancing, and hand washing are in place.
- School closures are disproportionately impacting marginalized students, including those with disabilities, English-language learners, and Black and Latino children, who make up a large proportion of students in WCCUSD.
- Teachers and school staff should be a high priority for COVID vaccination.