WCCUSD teachers file complaint with state over COVID safety concerns
on September 24, 2021
Frustrated with the lack of protocols to protect staff and students from COVID-19, West Contra Costa Unified teachers have filed a state workplace complaint against the school district.
The complaint was filed on Aug. 31 with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. The teachers favor a vaccine mandate for kids ages 12 and up, which the school board was expected to discuss this week but postponed. Superintendent Chris Hurst said in an internal email that more research was needed before the board could take up the issue.
The union says teachers have aired their concerns for weeks, but their complaints had been largely ignored by the district.
“We’ve sent our issues to the board and to the district daily,” said Marissa Glidden, president of United Teachers of Richmond. “We email them with issues at sites and we get basically no response, which is why we filed a formal OSHA complaint.”
In the internal email, Hurst said the district first needed to find out how a mandate was handled by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is among the few to require vaccines for students. The Oakland Unified School District voted this week for a mandate, but put off strict enforcement of it until January.
In his email, Hurst also said WCCUSD needs to figure out how to handle in-person learning for students who don’t want the vaccine and how to secure vaccine data for all students. In a Sept. 16 email to the entire school community, he noted that there would be no special meeting on Sept. 21 to discuss a mandate.
Teachers were hopeful the district would take a stand and were disappointed that Hurst delayed the discussion, Glidden said.
As in-person classes return around the country, school boards are faced with the difficult decision of how to handle COVID-19 among children. In Contra Costa County, the 5-to12-year-old age group has the highest number of coronavirus cases. Since school started on Aug. 16, WCCUSD has reported 188 student cases and 37 staff cases and has closed 26 classrooms.
WCCUSD parents are split on the mandate question, as Richmond Confidential found when talking to many before the postponed board discussion. And some are adamantly opposed to having their children vaccinated, citing concerns about the vaccine’s safety and parental rights.
On the other hand, a union poll found that 90% of WCCUSD teachers support a mandate, Glidden said. And at Wednesday’s board meeting, several teachers expressed disappointment that it wasn’t discussed.
“Students are missing class because of outbreaks at schools and are not getting the full public education that they have a right to,” said Caroline Brickell, a seventh grade teacher at El Sobrante’s Betty Reid Soskin Middle School. “Full classes are being shut down… students are forced to stay home for 10 days. This could be potentially avoided if everybody was vaccinated.”
Board President Mister Phillips said the mandate discussion was never on the board’s agenda.
“The truth is that 9/21 was an internal ‘hold’ date that someone leaked to the news media,” Phillips said. “Now they are leaking the superintendent’s internal emails too. That is inappropriate.”
Other school board members said the possibility of a vaccine mandate isn’t dead.
Board member Leslie Reckler said she asked Hurst to present more research and to work with lawyers to develop a proposal.
“I asked him to be very thoughtful and thorough and to consider the whole landscape, and so I believe that’s what he’s doing,” Reckler said.
Hurst has not said when a possible vaccine mandate will come to the board for a vote. His office said in a statement that the superintendent is “only investigating the vaccine mandate.”
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