Nearly 20 school board trustees from across the South Bay are demanding San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo stop politicizing school re-openings.
The trustees penned a letter, signed by leaders across nine school districts, criticizing Liccardo’s new advocacy group, Solutions San Jose, which launched a campaign with a petition to quickly reopen schools in the 19 districts across San Jose.
School trustees say Liccardo is being disingenuous when he claims to want to reopen schools in the name of social justice.
More than 2,400 people signed the mayor’s petition in 24 hours. In a follow up email, Liccardo wrote that keeping schools closed “is a critical civil rights issue, creating a ‘separate and unequal’ system of learning.” Education leaders in East San Jose, one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19, previously questioned the mayor’s motives.
In the new letter, trustees say Liccardo’s petition actually works against his purported goals.
“In reality, his petition does nothing to solve the many issues before us in dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 on our school-aged children and especially the region’s ‘low income families,'” the letter states. “To be clear, ‘safely re-opening of schools; is already underway, and has been since March 2020.”
Educators and school unions are fighting back against reopening schools before safety measures — including COVID-19 vaccines for all teachers and staff — are put in place.
The letter asks for other forms of help from Liccardo, including “using his political power as the mayor of the tenth largest city to demand increased vaccination supply from the state and feds.”
Brian Wheatley, board president for the San Jose Unified School District, is a signee of the letter. He said he was confounded when he heard about the mayor’s petition.
“It came out of left field,” Wheatley said. His first reaction, he said, was: “Seriously, now?” Wheatley said many schools are so close to reopening and the mayor’s actions aren’t helping them get it done.
Education workers in the county will start to receive COVID-19 vaccinations Feb. 28, and Liccardo’s petition called for prioritizing vaccines for teachers.
Still, Wheatley and others say the move by Liccardo is purely political. Liccardo did not return a request for comment.
“I get it — he’s looking for his next job, he’s trying to raise his profile and he wants to get picked up by a national news organization, I would imagine, (that says) he’s fighting for families,” Wheatley said.
Liccardo terms out in 2022. He recently faced scrutiny for hiring — and then renewing — a six figure contract with a Washington, D.C. public relations firm to pen op-eds in major newspapers and raise his profile on the national stage.
Claudia Rossi, board president for the Santa Clara County Board of Education, said she’s never seen the mayor at any education meetings on the topic of reopening schools, and said he’s largely has been “missing in action.”
“(Liccardo) never contacted the district to offer fundraising revenues or to help with the filtration systems that need to be upgraded, disinfectants that need to be used in the classroom,” said Rossi, who also signed the letter. “I think when it comes to fundraising opportunities, he appears to be more focused on financing his next campaign as opposed to helping finance the re-opening of schools.”
The mayor’s group is a 501(c)4, which can engage in lobbying activities and political campaigns, including donating to political action committees.
“If he wanted to be part of the solution, he would have joined those discussions to leverage city resources to assist as opposed to calling press conferences,” Rossi said. “You can’t reopen (schools) with press conferences and petitions.”
Rossi said the mayor is “attacking” the parents of students for which he claims to care because many teachers are parents themselves and want schools to reopen.
Rossi is a registered nurse working in South County, and she said she’s seen fear, particularly among hard-hit Latino families, of the effects of COVID-19 if schools reopen too soon.
“They are extremely cautious because they have been disproportionately hit by this virus,” Rossi said. “What I’m hearing from a lot of the families, they will feel safer knowing their children will return to school when teachers are vaccinated, and when the environment is such that exposure to this virus will be mitigated.”