San Jose college teachers upset over lack of COVID vaccine oversight
Local teachers say although the West Valley-Mission Community College District requires students, faculty and staff on campus to be vaccinated for COVID-19, it's not verifying vaccination cards. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

As West Valley-Mission Community College District students return to in-person learning, faculty are petitioning for safe working conditions.

Teachers distributed a resolution in late January stating the school district’s COVID-19 implementation plan is outdated, and the district is failing to verify student vaccine status.

Kate Disney, president of the West Valley Mission Federation of Teachers, said although the district requires students, faculty and staff coming to campus to be vaccinated, the district is putting students and faculty at risk by not verifying vaccination cards.

“The issues we are dealing with are all related to safety,” she told San José Spotlight.

A faculty member, not named due to fear of retaliation, said the school district is only doing spot checks of uploaded vaccine cards.  

“The college isn’t taking the health of its students and staff seriously,” she said. “The students have been misled to feel they’re going to be safe on campus because everyone will be vaccinated.”

Professor Cheryl Hackworth also feels betrayed by the community college district. On Monday, she informed her classes about the lack of oversight.

“A lot of them were shocked,” Hackworth told San José Spotlight. “Staff, faculty and students alike were led to believe that somebody was verifying the status of the vaccinations.”

Chancellor Bradley Davis said the district’s vaccination policy provides employees and students the option to certify by declaration under penalty of expulsion or discipline that they are fully immunized. He said faculty, staff and administrators are not required to provide vaccination cards.

“We are conducting daily audits to check for inconsistencies and are using PyraMed Health Systems and partnering with the California Immunization Registry to complete our review, and have found zero instances of fraud from students,” he told San José Spotlight.  

Student Allison Ngo said as long as everyone wears masks, she feels safe. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Another tool to reduce COVID-19 exposure may also be faulty. The school district created an app, WVCGO, that faculty, staff and students are supposed to use daily to verify they aren’t experiencing COVID symptoms. But when Hackworth asked her students who used it, no one had.

While the college community relies on these things to keep them safe, there’s no enforcement, Hackworth said, noting her safety lies in the fit of her N95 mask.

In addition, the college district’s COVID information was outdated, requiring faculty to update their own guidelines. An estimated 200 faculty members downloaded the information provided by another faculty member based on Santa Clara County Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites. 

Davis said he is confident the policy and website information are accurate and up to date.

Classes cancelled

Faculty said the petition was spurred on by the number of classes cut by the district: 256 in-person and 80 online classes were cancelled for the spring semester due to low enrollment. About 13,000 students attend classes in the district, most of which are part-time. There are about 600 faculty members, with a little more than half working part-time.

Disney, the federation of teachers president, objects to these classes being cancelled. She said it doesn’t serve the students.

“As a district, we have a lot of money,” said Disney. “We should be supporting our students, especially during this time of need.”

The college district’s unrestricted fund balance at the end of 2021 was over $66 million. It is projecting an unrestricted general fund balance of over $76 million at the end of this fiscal year.

There was a lot of pressure by the administration to offer more in-person classes even though students weren’t signing up for them in the fall, faculty said.

“I’m lucky I have enough people in my in-person class that it won’t be cancelled,” a faculty member also fearful of retaliation said. “But it pales in comparison to the registration of my online classes.”

Student Allison Ngo said she’s excited to be on campus and it’s easier to focus without distractions at home.

“Classes are small, and everyone’s spaced out,” she said. “Everyone I’ve seen has worn masks so I’m not too afraid, especially since I’m vaccinated.”

Karen Chan, executive director of the West Valley Mission Federation of Teachers, said the district has fallen short of its commitment to the school community.

“One of the biggest concerns for faculty right now is making sure that the district checks everyone’s upload and complies with its own vaccination policy,” Chan said.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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