RICHMOND – Gabrielle Micheletti’s first-grade students usually arrive for class by 8:30 a.m. at the Verde K-8 School in Richmond and wear child-sized surgical masks, some of which are decorated with colors or cartoon puppy dogs go.
But her 24-student class has been mostly empty since the school resumed testing for COVID-19. “Last week, the most students I had in class were five,” Micheletti said. “On Friday, I only had two students with me.”
More than 1,500 teachers, nurses and support staff in the West Contra Costa Unified School District say they could go on strike if the district doesn’t strengthen protective measures against COVID-19 by Friday.
“Unknowingly, we were hearing a lot of frustration and a lot of fear from teachers at all levels,” said Micheletti, who is the primary director of the United Teachers of Richmond union. “It seems that we are always caught on our heels. Teachers will try to approach the leadership in the district and say, ‘We are anticipating a (boom), this is the ground reality.’ And nothing really happened.”
Marissa Glidden, president of United Teachers of Richmond, said 72% of the 1,100 teachers polled over the weekend would support the strike over what they called an unsafe environment for learning in the district, which is in Richmond, San Pablo. Serves approximately 27,000 students. El Cerrito, Pinole and Hercules.
After the vote, Glidden said that the union’s executive board authorized the strike if there was no agreement on the four main issues in the district resolution on Monday.
The union wants to provide teachers with new high-quality masks every day, weekly COVID testing for all, an eligible adult in every class without a regular teacher and either testing twice a week or distance learning for classes where the virus Many cases have been broken.
“We believe they hear us, but we want them to act on what they’re hearing,” Glished said. “We’re ready to sit down and talk until this week – as many hours as necessary – to come up with a plan, because we really want to keep everyone safe.”
The union’s demand comes in the wake of the staggering three-week absenteeism rates of students. According to the district’s attendance data, by the second week of January, a third of all students missed classes, including those who tested positive for COVID-19, those who were in contact with someone who was positive or Just didn’t want to take the risk of catching the virus.
“I think it’s particularly deep in what our students are going through and the way they’re using their voices to explain those experiences,” Glished said, noting that changes would be made to learning. The loss will continue. “In some ways, we feel like we stand in solidarity with these demands, because much of them came directly from what the students said.”
Ryan Phillips, the district’s director of communications, said in a statement that West Contra Costa Unified is committed to continuing to work with its community and taking “significant” steps to provide multiple KN95 masks each week to all staff, including students. Distributes surgical and KN95 masks to the Maintain weekly testing at each school site and hire full-time nurses for a tracing program coordinated with Contra Costa County Health Services.
“The district has taken and continues to take significant action to ensure the safety of our schools and staff,” the statement said. “We agree that KN95 masks, a robust contact tracing program, the support of schools to cover staff absenteeism, and vaccine clinics are appropriate areas to direct our attention and resources, such as in our district , like many across the state, is strained by the Omicron boom. ,
But Glidden says the reality in classrooms and hallways is often different from the reports she’s heard from the district.
“I am concerned about teachers resigning and leaving permanently because of the loss this year, and especially over the past few weeks,” Glidden said. “The statement from the district is amazing. I hope they give it in writing and are willing to sign on the dotted line for those things. ,
Earlier this month, District Superintendent Kenneth Chris Hurst advised teachers that some people calling the sick did so as part of an organized effort.
In a January 11 email sent to the district community, Hurst said, “Employees coordinating with each other to get sick together is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This type of action is not helpful and addresses our current issues.” In the end, it’s students and families who aren’t served when staff coordinate together not to come to school.”
Micheletti said this was a “breaking point” for some employees.
“With all the disruption already in many of our schools this month, we don’t want to miss out on classes and further disrupt routines for students – that is the last thing any teacher wants right now,” Micheletti said. “If the district can see the cause before that, that would be ideal.”