Health & Safety Update
As Covid cases increase, Chancellor to propose lifting District mask mandate
After a busy year of advocacy on behalf of students and employees, your campus Health and Safety Committees are wrapping up their final meetings of the semester this month.
In Spring, both Skyline and Cañada College committees voted unanimously to approve sending a strong recommendation to the District’s Safety Management Committee that union representation at their meetings is essential for transparency in decision making, improved communications about health and safety districtwide, and democratic participatory government processes. They argued that meeting behind closed doors without any faculty or staff present does not serve the interests of the students or employees they are tasked with protecting. The District Committee will receive these recommendations at their June 6 meeting.
Notably, previous recommendations by the local campus committees to the District committee have resulted in few changes to campus health and safety functions. For background, see long time Skyline faculty member Rosemary Bell’s February 2022 opinion article, ‘Students first’ should mean strong, clear health & safety policies and transparency from administration.’
Covid cases on the rise in our District
Meanwhile, this Spring our District saw positive Covid exposures on the rise with four times as many students and employees testing positive in April than in March. May exposure numbers in SMCCCD have continued to reflect a clearly upward trend, mirrored by this graph of San Mateo County Covid cases from May 17, showing a significant uptick in cases since mid-March (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases-deaths-tracker.html)
Meanwhile, the District’s Covid health officer has continued to play down SMCCCD’s positive exposure statistics, reporting more friendly national statistics that ignore that California is currently a Covid “hotspot” and stressing the “endemic” nature of the virus. Throughout the academic year, Health and Safety committee members have advocated for greater transparency and improved communications about the situation faced by students and employees teaching and learning on campus.
Equity in the Face of “Emergency”
Despite a strong request by Skyline’s AFT representatives to convene Safety committee meetings this summer in order to proactively prepare for a safe Fall reopening, when the number of students and employees on campus is expected to increase substantially, the Committee Chair decided against this measure. Therefore, Committee meetings will cease during Summer. For example, if masking requirements are dropped by the Board of Trustees during the Summer term, some employees will need weeks or months to work with their Deans and HR to obtain work-from-home accommodations in time for the Fall semester, especially as Fall classes have already been assigned. However, without any support or advocacy during summer health and safety meetings, will the District be proactive in communicating policy changes and responding to employee requests for accommodations in a timely way?
It’s hoped that with new equity language unanimously adopted into Skyline’s new committee bylaws just this month, administrators will begin to recognize that our students and employees experience health and safety “emergencies” differently. A host of factors play into how Covid affects us including, of course, our ages as well as our ethnicity, orientation, underlying health conditions, insurance, socioeconomic status, immigration status, ability and more. The newly enacted bylaws now “support an equitable approach to Health, Safety, and Emergency Preparedness in accordance with Skyline’s mission, vision, and values; and anti-racism and social justice statements.”
Covid PCR Testing on Campus
At Skyline’s May 2022 Health and Safety meeting, CSEA and AFT representatives asked VPSS Dr. Orante to explain how several students exempted from vaccination for medical and/or religious reasons had been able to continue attending classes in person and using campus services while failing to check in for weekly covid PRC testing on campus. How did compliance fall through the cracks? Questions remain.
Committee reps also noted that the District’s contracted Covid testing vendor “Covid Clinic” providing testing on our campuses (distinct from SM County testing provided at CSM) continues to require that a level of personal information be provided that’s likely to discourage our District’s hundreds of undocumented students and employees from getting tested onsite. The testing registration form requests: social security number, passport or driver’s license number, home address, and insurance carrier. The Covid health officer has agreed to look into this, but this begs the question: how did these details slip through the cracks when our campuses have repeatedly promised a “students first” inclusive and equitable college experience?
Chancellor to propose changes to District mask mandate
At its April 27 Board of Trustees meeting it was announced that SMCCCD will begin to consider lifting the mask mandate now that Covid is “endemic,” and plans to consult all constituents for feedback. AFT’s Spring 2022 Member Survey on Masking showed that as many as “16.74% of faculty survey respondents would require a [work from home] accommodation if the District dropped the mask requirement for unvaccinated employees and students during Spring.” On Monday, May 16, Chancellor Claire announced in an all-district e-mail that he will be “recommending a change that makes indoor masking an individual and personal decision when San Mateo County is designated by the CDC as green or yellow in terms of COVID risk, and mandatory when San Mateo County is designated as red,” adding that he would “be taking this recommendation to the Board at the May 25 Board meeting. He lastly asked that all faculty and staff complete a district survey on individuals’ preferences regarding district masking requirements. We encourage all faculty, especially those who have particular concerns, to complete the survey by clicking here.
AFT is also conducting a separate survey to gather faculty feedback on the changes proposed by Chancellor Claire, as well as various potential masking policies. We plan to present an overview of the feedback as well as reading particular comments (with your consent) at the May 25th Board meeting. You can take the survey by clicking here. (https://bit.ly/AFTmasksurvey.) Please complete the survey by this Tuesday, May 24th, at 11:59 p.m. You have the option to take the survey anonymously or to have your name attached to your comments.
We also encourage those who are concerned about the district’s masking requirements to express their opinions and/or share personal experiences during public comments at the May 25th Board meeting at 6 p.m.
Some good news…
Importantly, a request by your AFT safety reps for renewed CPR training – on hiatus for years – did result in a well attended, day long training session during April 2022 Flex day with renewed, extensive training planned next year for all Building Captains.
What else can faculty do?
AFT encourages you to attend your final Safety Committee meeting of the year on your campus by Zoom. These meetings are open to all. You can also contact your reps ahead of the meeting with any concerns you’d like shared on your behalf.
- Cañada College: Thursday, May 19, from 2:30-4:00pm, at this link: https://smccd.zoom.us/j/82008592300
AFT Reps: Michael Hoffman and Lorraine Barrales-Ramirez
- College of San Mateo: Thursday May 26, from 2:00-3:30pm, at this link:
Reps: David Lau (AFT); Yesenia Diaz (Academic Senate)
Lastly, please consider sharing any input you may have, especially with regard to masking, at your final Academic Senate meetings of the year. Again, you can also speak out during public comments at the Board of Trustees’ May 25 meeting at 6 pm about whatever concerns you have. For more information about how to do this, touch base with Marianne Kaletzky, AFT1493’s Executive Secretary <Kaletzky@aft1493.org>. Your union continues to work diligently to support you during this continuing health crisis.