Frustration mounts as Mt. Diablo Unified School District remains without a plan on how to reopen

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District remains at odds with employee unions at how to return to in-person learning while neighboring school districts have reopened.

At a virtual board meeting Wednesday, Mt. Diablo Unified Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark said the district and unions are "distances away from coming to an agreement."

Clark said MDUSD is aiming to reopen schools, based on state and county guidance, when Contra Costa County enters the state’s red tier of reopening. The county is currently in the purple tier.

Mt. Diablo Education Association, an employee union which represents 1,600 members, said the decision to reopen should be based on metrics by city, since some cities in communities of color have higher COVID-19 transmission rates. President Anita Johnson said the organization was committed to the health and safety of students, and said while in-person learning is better than distance learning, it’s just not safe to return.

"The overriding fear though is that someone in the community will get sick and die from this," Johnson said. "We know the more interaction there is, the more transmission there is."

Johnson noted that the debate over reopening has torn the district apart because some affluent communities want to return to the classroom while communities where people are suffering are afraid to go back to campuses.

"Teachers are working really hard right now and I know it’s not working for everybody, but the solution is not to risk people's lives," she said.

Johnson said she had hope coronavirus transmission rates would continue to go down and schools could reopen.

During public comment at Wednesday’s board meeting, numerous parents expressed frustration with the district for failing to reopen like neighboring San Ramon Valley Unified and Orinda Union School District. Some said their children are suffering with distance learning and schools need to reopen before the end of the year.

Board trustee Keisha Nzewi said despite emails from parents asking for schools to reopen, other parents in communities of color do not feel the same because of how the virus has impacted them. Nzewi noted the pandemic has highlighted the inequities of public education.

While a return date has not been reached, the board did unanimously approve a safety reopening plan called, "Reconnect Safely, Reopen Strong."

The district said is not willing to compromise on public health recommendations and said it should not accept any proposals from unions that argue for additional safety or supersede county recommendations.

"We all have to come together and find different ways to we can support our students and that is what matters to me," Clark said at the board meeting.

More than 1,000 students have left the district this academic school year, according to Clark. MDUSD serves more than 29,000 students at more than 50 school sites in Contra Costa County. Some families are choosing to homeschool, move to private schools, or relocate out of the area. Clark said layoffs and school closures are a possibility.