Seven people in virtual meeting

WCCUSD May Push COVID-19 Vaccine Deadline

Seven people in virtual meeting

The West Contra Costa Unified School District does not know whether more than 8,300 of its students 12 or older have been vaccinated against COVID-19. (Screenshot captured by Julia Métraux / The CC Pulse)

By Julia Métraux

With less than 30 days until the deadline to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s vaccine mandate loomed over Wednesday’s school board meeting.

Under the current mandate, students 12 years of age and older had until Nov. 15 to get their first shot and Dec. 15 to get their second shot. Students who do not have a medical exemption would move to Vista Virtual Academy at the start of the new semester in January.

Between the need for more hiring for the virtual academy and the number of families that have uploaded their students’ vaccination cards, the Jan. 3 deadline to be fully vaccinated in order to stay in in-person school is now in jeopardy.

According to a presentation, of the 12,144 students in WCCUSD who are 12 or older, only 3,417 have uploaded their vaccination cards or brought them to school to show they received two doses. Another 199 students have only received one dose, and 45 have no plans to get vaccinated. The district does not have information on 8,344 students, as of Dec. 3. Students can also bring vaccination cards to their school sites if they are having trouble submitting them online.

The district has assigned 39 people to get in touch with parents about their plans for their children’s COVD-19 vaccination.

“Sixty-six percent of parents informed us they will upload their card digitally, 30% said they would bring the card to school, and 4% said they would not be vaccinating their child,” WCCUSD communications director Ryan Phillips said.

Before the meeting, WCCUSD superintendent Kenneth “Chris” Hurst shared a memo with trustees about moving the deadline back for the vaccine mandate, but a specific date was not suggested. A motion may be brought before the board Dec. 15 to make a new deadline official.

“It’s really our current reality, looking at the numbers and looking at the data, so the board [may] consider pushing the date back,” Hurst said. “My recommendation would be moving the day to align with what the governor shared.”

According to an October press release from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, “the requirement is expected to apply to grades 7-12 starting on July 1, 2022.” However, “local health jurisdictions and local education agencies are encouraged to implement requirements ahead of a statewide requirement based on their local circumstances.” The Los Angeles Unified School District, which has a similar mandate to WCCUSD, has faced similar challenges.

Representation in Sacramento

Another contentious issue at this West Contra Costa Board of Education meeting was whether the board would approve a $36,000 contract with Capitol Advisors Group, LLC. The contract included a 30-day opt-out clause. The board previously did not approve a contract with Capitol Advisors Group.

Capitol Advisors Group is a lobbying group that could advocate for WCCUSD’s interests, including for more funding, in Sacramento. WCCUSD receives around 80% to over 90% of revenue from the state of California.

“What I will say is that the platform is our decision. When I say ours, that means the board and myself,” Hurst said. “We get to develop a legislative platform together, and we have this organization that can help us do that as well, Capital Advisors.”

Trustee Leslie Reckler said that she was in favor of approving this contract because “we absolutely need representation in Sacramento.” However, Jamela Smith-Folds questioned the timing of this approval.

“When they start getting the money, I want them to start doing the work right,” Smith-Folds said. “If we haven’t made the decision about what our story is yet or what we wanted, I think that we’re putting the cart before the horse.”

Trustee Mister Phillips argued that paying this cost was worth it if it meant avoiding layoffs in the future and better funding for more programs for students.

“We’re broke. Want to put that out — we’re broke. If I knew how to say it in another language, I would,” Phillips said. “Paying these folks $36,000 can get us in the rooms that we need to be in, that we all know we need to be in, so we can do more in this district than just keep the lights on.”

The motion passed. Trustees Phillips, Reckler, Otheree Christian and Demetrio Gonzalez Hoy voted yes; Smith-Folds voted no; student trustee Justin Trujillo abstained, and student trustee Irene Kou was absent.

The next regular Board of Education meeting will be held Dec. 15.

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