Bay Area school district reopens after deep cleaning, teacher shortages persist

At Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito Tuesday, school was back in session after a four-day weekend where the district had each school deep cleaned.

But how much actual learning went on is an open question.

"I just volunteered all morning and kids were telling me half the teachers are here," said Laila Comolli, the mother of an eighth-grader. She wasn't sure what to expect when she first arrived this morning.

"It seems surprisingly organized. But kids are not getting their normal schooling. The PE classes were three together in the yard. The kids looked kind of bored," she said.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District reports four teachers were sick with COVID. But nine teachers stayed home, more than a quarter of the teaching staff.

That may be related to a letter Korematsu families received from a teacher saying: "Due to the rising COVID cases, lack of safety protocols, and staff shortages, teachers at Korematsu Middle School will not be coming to school tomorrow, or the rest of this week."

The superintendent issued a response: Superintendent Kenneth Chris Hurst issued a response: "Employees coordinating with one another to call in sick together is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

A new safety mandate took effect Tuesday. Teachers and staff must now wear KN95 masks which the district is providing.

Students must wear surgical masks beginning next week. No cloth masks will be allowed. 

One para-professional with the district says she doesn't feel safe in school regardless of the mask.

"I think we should go back to distance learning because there is a big outbreak everywhere," said Jacqueline Mullins.

But school officials want to keep schools open.

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"It doesn't make sense to close an entire county if one class or one school is going through an outbreak or has some cases. It doesn't make sense," said Contra Costa County Superintendent Lynn Mackey.

Substitute teachers have been in short supply district-wide.

Central office administrators, including the superintendent, have been taking over some of the classrooms.