After nearly a year of kids being out of school, Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar says he’s optimistic about the district’s plan to begin reopening schools in April.
On CapRadio’s Insight, Aguilar said the district’s phased approach beginning April 8 was formed prior to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature reaching a deal to incentivize schools to reopen by April. The Legislature approved the plan Thursday.
“It's almost been a year since we shuttered our schools and tried to transform how our students learned, but we know that it isn't always ideal. And there are many circumstances that get in the way of making sure that we can meet the needs of our students,” he said. “So I am very optimistic. It's something that we are very much looking forward to, given the impact that this pandemic has had across our entire community.”
But there could be a sticking point in negotiations between the district and the Sacramento City Unified Teachers’ Association over air filters and ventilation. The teachers union wants each classroom to have a ventilation system with a filter that has a minimum efficiency reporting value, or MERV, of 13. A board meeting was planned for Thursday evening.
Aguilar spoke with CapRadio’s Randol White about the reopening plan, progress toward staff vaccination and how the pandemic is affecting students.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On why Sac City Unified is trying to open schools so close to the end of the school year
Every minute that goes by where we are unable to fully meet the needs of our students is a minute lost. I have said time and time again, and I actually would quote another labor partner who has often reminded me that we had a pandemic in terms of learning before the pandemic that we're encountering now from a health perspective. And that's to say that we have a long ways to go to make sure that we can become a school district that is proud of serving the kind of students that we serve. Over 70% of our students are low-income. They're English learners, they're foster, they're homeless. And yet we have seen other models work throughout the state where districts that serve high-poverty students also are very high-achieving districts. And that is the vision that we have here in Sac City Unified.
On whether the governor’s incentive program played a role in the planned reopening
We announced our reopening plan before the governor and the Legislature announced their agreement, and that was based on what we deemed appropriate so that we had the opportunity to properly prepare for the reopening to welcome back our students. So it turns out that the timing is somewhat aligned, but that was not anything that we took into consideration because we announced our reopening plan prior to the agreement that was announced earlier this week.
… To the extent that we might benefit from that additional funding, then of course, we will welcome that. But our priority has been to make sure that we implement a reopening plan that gives us all of the time that we felt we needed to make sure that we address the safety concerns that we have heard from our community, from our families and from students in listening sessions that we've conducted as well with with our students.
On how the vaccination of staff is going
It's going very well. We are very grateful to partners, Sac County Public Health. We're particularly grateful to Dignity Health, who held two mass vaccination clinics at our district offices off of 47th and South Sacramento. These last two Fridays, we were able to vaccinate about 2,200 of our staff members. We roughly have about 4,300 staff members.
We were scheduled to have another mass vaccination clinic this Friday. Unfortunately, due to vaccine availability, we were informed earlier this week that we wouldn't be able to hold that tomorrow.
But because of our partnership with Sac County Public Health and the support that we received from [Sacramento County Public Health Officer] Dr. Olivia Kasirye, we were able to invite the remaining group of all of our staff members to be able to get vaccinated either at Cal Expo or at McClellan. And we hope that all of us will take advantage of those two opportunities tomorrow.
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