Board wavers before applying for a waiver

On September 24, our school board authorized superintendent Booker to begin the process of applying for a waiver for elementary schools to reopen with a hybrid learning model, as laid out by the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD).

The vote was split 3-2 on the board. I haven’t seen such a close vote in years. Almost all votes on the school board are 5-0. Voting NO were Andrea Swenson and Megan Pillsbury. At one point in the evening, a board member requested to abstain from the vote which would have left the vote count at 2-2. Board president Amal Smith then jumped in and insisted a full vote count is required that led to the final 3-2 vote.

Superintendent Booker had initially recommended against going for this waiver. Booker stated that based on his conversations with other school districts, many initially indicated interest but none have applied for a waiver citing concerns over negotiations with labor, meeting requirements for student cohorts, and that COVID testing of staff is a “big-big” issue. Booker said our AM/PM student cohorts should qualify.

Booker also stated that applying for a waiver would take resources away from his work on getting special education students back on campus. He said the teachers union agreed to an assessment for special education students but more work is needed for a return to classroom instruction for special education, acute learners, English-language learners, foster youth, and so on. Booker clarified that collective bargaining with the teachers union would get these kids back into the classroom faster than waiting for the elementary school waiver to be approved.

Later in the meeting, Booker gave an indication of how difficult negotiations had been around classroom instruction. At 1 hour and 42 minutes into the meeting, Booker said that Gabe Kessler, President of the Association of Piedmont Teachers (APT) union had publicly stated: “if it is not safe for all, it is not safe for some”. This statement seems contradictory since APT already agreed to parental choice for 100% distance learning and the AM/PM hybrid model splits the classroom into two study groups because it was deemed not safe for all students to be in the classroom. APT has also used CDC criteria to define teachers at increased risk of hospitalization, the same outcome we have been trying to flatten the curve for. Do we need a "safety summit"?

Earlier that evening, Kessler explained he was having difficulty explaining to parents why school district negotiations with APT have been ongoing for nearly 6 months. APT had not endorsed any board candidate in Piedmont prior to 2018. In 2018 APT endorsed Amal Smith and Megan Pillsbury. This year APT endorsed Jason Kelley and Veronica Thigpen.