Students, faculty call on district to provide a safer return to campus

Many have expressed concern with the lack of resources available to fight COVID-19


Steven Rissotto

Faculty and students rallied for key resources to fight COVID, such as available testing on campus.

With the Board of Trustees giving the green light to the return of in-person classes, the spring semester has officially started for the San Mateo County Community College District, but with the new COVID-19 omicron variant spreading at a rapid rate, some faculty, students and staff expressed their concerns about their safety.

The Board recommended opening the campuses with a plan they constructed back over the summer. However, that stretch looked different as positive coronavirus cases are reported to be higher than how they’ve been throughout the entirety of the pandemic. As a result, some students started to second guess their decision to take in-person classes, causing remote courses to fill up.

The American Federation of Teachers, Local 1493 (AFT-1493) hosted a news conference at Skyline College on Jan. 20.

“We had three different ideas; our first idea was to write a letter to the chancellor and board and the second idea was to conduct a meeting with staff to get their intake, and the third was a press conference,” said Katherine Harer, AFT-1493’s Co-Vice President. “This press conference is for us, students, faculty, and staff. It’s for us to say what we feel, what our truth is, what our concerns are and how much we care about our students.”

After multiple recommendations from students, faculty and staff calling on the Board to reverse their decision or to follow measures nearby districts are doing, the district rejected nearly all recommendations.The faculty union demands three specific safety protocols be in place at all three colleges.

The first demand is to have PCR and antigen testing on all three campuses. Currently, testing is only available at the College of San Mateo and is only guaranteed to unvaccinated students. This means there is no certainty that a vaccinated student who may have or was exposed to COVID-19 may get tested on campus. Positive cases were said to be already reported on the first day of school on Jan. 18 during the news conference.

The second demand is to provide basic safety equipment to all students and employees such as N95 and KN95 masks. Recent data shows that these masks are the best options for strong protection against the omicron variant. AFT-1493 also requests air purifiers that have high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration for the employees. HEPA filters reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the air along with proper mask wearing.

The third demand is to let all employees have the option to work from home until San Mateo County moves into a less restrictive tier.

On top of the demands, other recommendations were to possibly mandate COVID-19 booster shots and revive social distancing guidelines.

Speakers at the event either backed these demands or shared their thoughts and safety concerns. Ten speakers spoke at the news conference, including Daly City Mayor and Skyline social science professor Rod Daus-Magbual.

“I have been here at Skyline College for the past 18 years,” Daus-Magbual said. “I am gracious that I have a union to protect me and I feel like I am wearing all these different hats. I have had people be there for me so I feel that I need to be there for them. That is what drove me to speak out today.”

Associated Students of Skyline Students (ASSC) Commissioner of Activities Shannon Hoang spoke on behalf of a student from Canada College who couldn’t attend due to being exposed to COVID-19.

“We have a lot of students who are around 20 but her (the Cañada student) perspective was that she is 37, she has a husband with two kids who can not get vaccinated because they are under the current minimum age approved to get vaccinated,” said Hoang. “I felt it was a valuable perspective to present here which is why I read on her behalf.”

The lasting message Daus-Magbual, Harer, and Hoang want the Board to know is they believe these demands are doable and at the end of the day, students, staff, and faculty are the ones that want to feel safe on campus.

“I think there are demands that are reasonable and I do not think it’s far-fetched, and I feel like the demands AFT and I support are something that is doable,” Daus-Magbbual said.

If a student or someone they know has been exposed to COVID-19, they are advised to report it to their professor and COVID-19 Health Office Ray Hernandez ([email protected])

A petition has been set up for students, faculty, and staff to sign in support of AFT-1493’s message which received 1,200 signatures within 48 hours.