General

High absences prompt WCCUSD to close schools for two days

With a flare in COVID-19 cases keeping many students and teachers out of school this week, the West Contra Costa Unified School District has decided to shut down on Friday and Monday. The district will take two “smoke days” that the state allows superintendents to use at their discretion, to deep clean its buildings, Superintendent Kenneth “Chris” Hurst said in a news release Wednesday. Hurst attributed the high absentee rate to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is raging…

WCCUSD adds COVID-19 test sites to keep kids safe at school

Three more COVID-19 testing sites opened up this week for students and staff in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, which resumed in-person classes on Monday amid a coronavirus spike propelled by the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus. The district already was offering tests at most schools and on Tuesday, added the Alvarado Adult School in Richmond, the Ohlone Elementary School campus in Hercules, and the district central office in Richmond to that list. Those sites are…

Three people test positive for omicron in Contra Costa County

Contra Costa Health Services reported Monday that it has identified the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 in three people in Contra Costa County. “We knew it was just a matter of time before the omicron variant appeared in Contra Costa County,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County health officer, said in a news release. “We’ve been encouraging anyone who is eligible to get a booster dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to do so. With today’s news…

WCCUSD pushes vaccine mandate back a month

Students in the West Contra Costa Unified School District have until Feb. 18 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, after the School Board extended the deadline by more than six weeks. The School Board agreed to push back the deadline last week, as Contra Costa County reported that only about 1 in 4 children under 12 had been fully vaccinated, and fewer than half had received a dose of the vaccine. Q&A: What WCCUSD parents want to know about the COVID-19…

WCCUSD bridges digital divide with at-home internet access for students

Julia Brady, an English teacher at Pinole Valley High School, has seen the impact that a lack of stable internet access can have on students.  She recalled a student a few years ago who couldn’t do an online assignment because their family decided to pay for emergency dental work instead of the internet that month. That student’s family is among many for whom Wi-Fi is a luxury. Almost 2 million households with children across the state lack consistent internet access,…

Volunteers search for dump sites in Pinole Creek Watershed. Want to join?

Damien Grace made a harrowing discovery at Pinole Creek in November. A portion of a 3-foot-long PVC pipe was lodged in the muddy bed. Grace and five other volunteers picking up trash that day knew where the pipe had come from. Pipes like this are typically found on construction sites, not buried in a creek. Grace had to lie on the bank and stretch to reach the pipe.  “I found the biggest treasure of the day!” Grace shouted.  The team…

Unvaccinated students may push enrollment to the limit in WCCUSD’s virtual high school in January

Administrators at Vista Virtual Academy, West Contra Costa Unified School District’s virtual K-12 independent study program, are scrambling to fill teacher positions ahead of a January deadline when unvaccinated students will no longer be allowed to attend in-person classes.  If students at district schools are not vaccinated against COVID-19. by Jan. 3, they will be transferred to Vista Virtual by Jan. 17. The only other options for unvaccinated students are a medical exemption or to unenroll from the district, according…

How to avoid a run-in with coyotes, which are interacting more with humans in the Bay Area

Throwing rocks and shouting loudly are effective ways to be a good neighbor — to overconfident coyotes.  While the wild canines and humans have been sharing habitat for a very long time, a spate of incidents involving aggressive coyotes over the past year and a half has prompted a new educational campaign by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in partnership with local agencies in Contra Costa County. The program, called Wildlife Watch, relies on trained volunteers to spread…

With the budget tight, Richmond middle school librarian crowd funds for books

In 2019, after eight years as an English teacher at Richmond High School, Rebekah Ponce-Larsen was excited to start a new job as a librarian at Lovonya DeJean Middle School. Being a librarian, she thought, would give her an opportunity to work with kids but in a different way. “I have more time to get to know individual students sometimes than teachers do,” she said. It’s through that personal relationship with students that Ponce-Larsen has transformed the library at DeJean,…