West Contra Costa schools prepare for April 19 reopening
on April 1, 2021
In a few weeks, the doors to West Contra Costa Unified School District’s 54 schools will open to children who choose to return to in-person classes.
The board of trustees made the decision to reopen at a special Friday night meeting after hearing from many parents, students, teachers and staff who were decidedly split on the issue. It was close to midnight when the measure passed by a 4-1 vote.
The district shut the schools when the coronavirus pandemic escalated more than a year ago. As long as all five unions representing district workers ratify the plan, students and teachers will return on April 19 for daily instruction on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The school day will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for elementary and middle school students, and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for high schoolers, with a snack provided at the end of the day but no lunch. In addition, supplemental instruction will be available before and after the core school day for students most in need.
Superintendent Matthew Duffy thanked people in the community for their patience and flexibility. He said the administration worked into the wee hours of Friday to hammer out an agreement with leaders of the five unions.
“This has been arduous to get us to this point,” Duffy said. “There are many, many different people with so many varied opinions. We believe we’ve done our best at this point to reach an agreement that works for everyone to get our schools open, to respect where people are and move forward.”
The return is voluntary for students, as well as for faculty and staff, who will get a $750 stipend for coming back. That will increase to $2,500 if the district gets money from the state as expected. The stipend, Duffy noted, has been the subject of “much consternation,” as some consider it too low.
Returning teachers must be vaccinated unless they get a waiver from the district. And they will be getting a classroom aide to help them coordinate in-person and remote instruction, as some students likely will opt to continue on Zoom.
In the coming weeks, the district will determine how many faculty and staff members will be returning and will poll families to figure out how many students the buildings will have to accommodate. The staff will return on Friday, April 16, to prepare for that Monday’s opening.
The board raised many questions about the logistics, with several trustees acknowledging that the plan doesn’t address many concerns. It includes requirements for mask-wearing and for 6 feet of social distancing, as well as daily health screenings and use of hand sanitizer.
“I do believe that this is the best plan that we can pass today for this spring,” said board President Mister Phillips. “And I believe I have an obligation to do what I can to help the most children in the moment.”
Jamela Smith-Folds, who voted against the measure, said she wasn’t comfortable with the lack of details. She also said the plan called for district employees to do more without adequate compensation.
“We must stand up unapologetically and say ‘no’ when employees are being devalued and taken advantage of,” she said.
In response to Phillips’ question about how the stipend was determined, Associate Superintendent Tony Wold said it was based on what the district could afford if it doesn’t receive additional state money. Wold stressed, though, that the district expects the money to come through and for the stipend to increase.
In voting for the plan, Phillips said it would make things better for many students, some of whom are no longer showing up for classes on Zoom.
“We have children who are hurting in so many different ways,” he said. “We have children who are hurting academically. We have children who are hurting emotionally. We have children who are regressing. We have children who are being physically harmed.”
“There is no other reason to do this work besides kids,” he added. “And there are kids who right now are not safe.”
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