South Bay schools delay reopening, weigh requiring teachers to take vaccine
Nearly 20 education leaders across nine school districts are telling Mayor Sam Liccardo to stop politicizing reopening schools. Photo courtesy of Barbara O’Loughlin.

San Jose’s biggest school district has put its reopening plans on pause over the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD), which intended to return thousands of students to campus on Jan. 5, informed parents last week via email it will delay that effort indefinitely.

“The pandemic continues to rage around us, dimming the hope of a return to normal life anytime soon,” said San Jose Unified School District Superintendent Nancy Albarrán.

The district’s move came in response to Santa Clara County returning to the purple — or highest — tier for COVID-19 infection rates. As of Dec. 14, there have been 49,216 reported COVID-19 cases and 529 related deaths in the county. 

SJUSD plans to resume its reopening effort when the county returns to the lower orange or yellow coronavirus tiers, Albarrán said in the letter.

The district polled parents in November about whether they wanted their children to attend in-person learning when it was expected to resume in January. The district plans to give parents who chose to send their children back to school four weeks notice before such instruction resumes, Albarrán said.

The state Legislature is requiring schools to offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible, SJUSD spokeswoman Jennifer Maddox said. Despite the delay, the district is preparing classrooms for students to return, collecting personal protective equipment for teachers and other personnel, separating students’ desks to allow for social distancing and ordering acrylic barriers that will allow teachers to move about their classrooms.

“We are still planning and preparing for a Jan. 5 start date even though we know that’s not going to happen, solely because we want to be ready,” Maddox said.

SJUSD’s delay of in-person learning is one of several among local school districts. 

East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD) put its own reopening plans on pause last month. ESUHSD previously brought some students back to campus and had planned to have 500 students at each of its campuses starting Jan. 15.

But the district announced Nov. 16 it would put that plan on hold until the county gets back into at least the red tier for coronavirus infections. 

Campbell Union School District similarly has delayed its reopening plans. 

Across the district’s 10 elementary and two middle schools, only about 300 students total are attending classes in-person, Marla Sanchez, a district spokeswoman, said. The district had been hoping to move to the next stage of reopening — a hybrid schedule with students on campus for part of the day and learning remotely for the other part  — but put that on pause when the county went into the purple tier.

It won’t resume its reopening effort until the county has dropped to the red tier and stayed there for two weeks, Sanchez said. At this point, the district won’t resume its reopening effort until Jan. 19 at the earliest, she said.

“Everything is in place to go into the next phase,” she said. “But things with this virus keep changing.” 

To speed the return of in-person learning, school district representatives as well as other education officials and advocates are urging health officials to make it a priority to administer coronavirus vaccines to teachers and school staff.

Santa Clara County will initially receive some 17,550 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and about 39,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine, all of which are reserved for health care workers.

The Pfizer doses started arriving Dec. 15 while the Moderna ones are slated to arrive by Dec. 25, public health officials said. But given that both vaccines require two doses, those allotments won’t be nearly enough to cover the approximately 100,000 health care workers in the county, much less teachers or anyone else. 

School workers shouldn’t get the vaccines before health care workers but they should be considered a priority, Maddox said.

“If we want the schools to be open as a community, we have to look at making sure the people who work in school facilities have access to the vaccine,” she said.

Teachers and staff should be included within the first three waves of COVID-19 vaccinations, ESUHSD Superintendent Chris Funk said.

“That’s the only way to have confidence in reopening our schools,” he said. “And without reopening our schools fully, our economy won’t come back.”

Funk hopes the district will be able to offer additional in-person instruction for the last six weeks of school as well as summer and fall.

“That’s all contingent on educators … from teachers to counselors to custodians getting the vaccine,” Funk said.

Such calls are being echoed around the state and nation.  

With many students struggling with distance learning at risk of falling behind, the California Teachers Association is urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to prioritize educators for the vaccine.

Likewise, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten asked federal review panels to include teachers and staff in a top tier of those due to receive vaccinations.

Maddox said it’s in the best interest of SJUSD students to return to in-person learning as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“We really hope that everyone in the community continues to do everything they can: wear face coverings, keep socially distanced, avoid gatherings,” Maddox said. “We would certainly like to bring the kids back. We know a lot of families are really wanting to have the kids back. The sooner we can slow the spread again … the sooner we’ll be able to do that.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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