This article was only published via the Dublin Shield

On Wednesday February 9, Dublin’s neighboring school district, San Ramon Valley Unified School District announced schools could reopen as soon as February 10. So far, only elementary students have received the green light to return back on campus, the first step to reopening schools according to California’s Safe School for All plan. 

Meanwhile, the Dublin Unified School District (DUSD) has formally been planning a reopening since early November. Negotiations between the Dublin Teachers Association (DTA) and district officials continue weekly, discussing issues from building modifications to proper safety enforcement. 

The district has also been completing paperwork required by the State’s Board of Education regarding a targeted reopening date of March 8. However, due to modifications, Interim School Superintendent Dr. Daniel Moirao noted, “with the new parameters [March 8] has become a soft date.” On March 8, District officials will gauge the status of Alameda County on the governor’s COVID tier list. Dr. Moirao notes “We need to be in the red tier for at least 10 days before we can reopen.” 

Despite the shared goal of teachers and administrators to reopen schools, there are still many challenges that need to be overcome to ensure the safety of the students and staff.  

The first obstacle is getting teachers vaccinated, which is complicated due to the low supply and high demand of the vaccine. The federal and state government are working to increase their supply through government resources. On February 3, Governor Gavin Newsom announced, in partnership with the Biden Administration, the state would be launching a mass vaccination site operating from the Oakland – Alameda Coliseum, where the Oakland Athletics call home. The site is scheduled to open on February 16 with the goal of administering 6,000 vaccine doses daily. Other smaller vaccination sites are also slated to open throughout Alameda County in the coming weeks.

Governor Newsom also announced that the state would be entering Tier 1b of vaccine distribution, which includes those employed in the “education and childcare service” category. California has already vaccinated those qualified under Tier 1a: healthcare workers and patients at long-term care facilities. 

Tier 1b itself is split into two categories: the former covering educators, emergency service workers, and those in food and agriculture, the latter covering the homeless, those in “critical manufacturing”, and those in the transportation and logistics sector. 

The official start date of vaccine distribution in Tier 1b is February 8, and there is hope teachers can start getting vaccinated soon thereafter. “The district is working with the Alameda County Public Health Department and Alameda County Office of Education to help with the rollout,” DHS principal, Maureen Byrne, stated. 

Mrs. Byrne hopes the vaccine distribution will allow DHS to open sooner rather than later, but the district is still working on specifics. It is unclear if vaccination will be required for teachers, but Mrs. Byrne acknowledged the outcome will be “decided in collaboration with the district and the teachers’ union. We want to keep our staff safe and protected as they continue to teach our GAELS.” The district shared her mentality: “We are eagerly pursuing getting all of our staff vaccinated,” echoed Dr. Moirao. 

The DTA has been working closely with the district on the issue of vaccinations. Many teachers rely upon Kaiser Permanente as their healthcare provider, and vaccine availability at Kaiser has proven to be a complicated factor. “[Kaiser Permanente] continually sends out updates that they simply do not yet have nearly enough vaccines to even start on educators,” said DTA officials. 

However, even if teachers were vaccinated, the COVID crisis wouldn’t be solved. “The safety of students returning to the classroom depends on the rate of community spread, the age of the students, the amount of ventilation in the room, the physical layout of a room, and having facilities that meet the COVID-safety requirements. Vaccines are just one piece of that puzzle,” said the DTA. 

In an effort to address safety issues beyond vaccinations, DUSD put up signs at all sites requiring face masks to be worn on all campuses. The District is in the process of updating its facilities with Merv-13 Filters as required by the CDC, but DTA noted in a statement released to The Shield on February 11th that there are still 70 filters that have yet to be replaced. 

The interim Superintendent noted, “We have the physical structures in place for safety concerns,” with DUSD planning to release more details in the coming days. Dr. Moirao also noted the District and the DTA are close to finalizing a schedule for reopening. 

One thing left uncertain, is how many students want to return to in-person learning at the present time. As recently as November, the District forwarded a survey to students and their parents through the “DUSD Family Commitment Form.” At that time, the District announced they received 7,500 responses from students – more than half of the Dublin Unified student body.

However, the surveying process stopped at the end of November as Alameda County moved into the Purple Tier, and discussions surrounding reopening were placed on temporary pause.

Teachers are hoping the District can send a new survey to effectively gauge student preferences. DTA officials asserted, “They need to poll families ASAP, and then … we’ll see just how close we really are.” They pointed out Livermore, Pleasanton, and San Ramon school districts have already sent out surveys. 

Alameda County is currently the 7th most vaccinated county in California, already having administered over 215,000  doses of the vaccine. The new vaccination site is likely to increase the number of people in Alameda County who can receive the vaccine. While the DTA and the District may have differences in negotiation, they are united in the common bond of seeking the best for students. With further inoculation, they are hoping to reduce the threat of COVID-19 and reopen Dublin’s schools safely.