The Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District held their regular board meeting on February 16. Given the controversial billboard message seen on the Highway 101 sign in Rohnert Park, it was no surprise that pressure continues to build on the district to start hybrid in-person learning more quickly. The tensions are rising within the community and district on the complex issue of how and when to return to campus while ensuring the safety of students, teachers, and staff.
Superintendent Mayra Perez presented the plan early in the meeting. First, she reviewed the guidance provided by the state with the most recent being that of January 14. Then she listed the steps already completed by the district to prepare. Most have been completed and the remaining items should be in place by March 2. She even showed pictures from a couple of school sites showing what classrooms looked like to meet state guidelines. When it starts, cohorts will be limited to 14 students and two adults in each classroom, six feet apart for social distancing, with masks required among the various other requirements.
With the caveat that nothing changes, the presented timeline was as follows: School sites prepared by March 2; School tours completed by March 8; Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the unions completed and accepted for Hybrid learning by March 12; required specific school plans submitted for approval by March 15 and Staff and Parent Training by March 22. Grades TK-2 for selected cohorts would start on April 12; followed by grades 3-6 on April 19. April and May would see academic and needs assessments completed with planning for Extended Learning Programs to be done in May.
Sites prepared is straightforward. The district staff has been working for months to get them ready. Air purifiers installed; individual desks bought and set-up for social distancing; entering and exit pathways with required signage in place, hand sanitizing stations and other Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) purchased; amongst many other requirements. The school tours for parents is so they can see and prepare their students for return. Many are unsure if they want their kids to return, so these tours may help them decide. The MOU with the unions has been in negotiation for months and is close to being acceptable to both sides. There are still a few sticking points according to Emilie King, President of RPCEA. Staff and Parent training involves how to drop off and pick-up kids, how to enter, exit, and move about the campus, take temperatures, and other items of traffic flow, movement and social distancing while on campus.
The MOU was a main topic of discussion. Trustee Michelle Wing said it was an urgent priority, that the failure to have the MOU in place already is disappointing. She requested the board have special meetings every couple of weeks and said it would be “irresponsible if we don’t have a MOU until March.” King in her RPCEA report defended the need for the change of working conditions for teachers, to ensure the safety of both her members and the kids. She seemed to throw shade at the district for the slowness of the final agreement. She said, “we are not slowing down the process.” A particular sticking point she mentioned was that RPCEA wanted to ensure returning teachers had both sets of vaccine before being required to do in-person learning.
Trustees Mark Nelson and Joe Cimino agreed with Wing that special meetings need to be held and Board President Chrissa Gillies and Trustee Leffler Brown had no problem with them. Gillies requested Perez look for a suitable date around March 2. Gillies said, “we understand your frustrations and we have to have a little more patience.” Brown shared everyone’s frustration and concerns, but asked folks to remain calm. He said it’s easy to lash out, assign blame but we need to work together, and we’ll get through this. He specifically said that the “sign along the freeway is a senseless lash out.”
In other board news, the district received a letter from the Sonoma County Office of Education certifying the First Interim Budget as positive. This means the district can meet their financial obligations this year and the following two years. The board approved an update to the job description for the district’s Chief Business Official. Current CBO Robert Marical is getting ready to retire. They also approved a temporary substitute teacher salary schedule to make the district more competitive in finding and employing substitutes which are in short supply. The approval goes through December 31, 2021. Also, they authorized additional purchases of portable air purifiers and some trifold desk barriers to prepare for in-person learning. Marical reported the district had received 4.3 million dollars so far in state and federal funding under various COVID-19 and learning loss mitigation bills. Through February 9 they’ve spent $3,485,000 and have a balance remaining of 810 thousand. He is estimating another 2.2 million or more to be received through additional funding bills. These are restricted funds that can only be used for specific purposes such as preparing schools for reopening.