San Jose Mayor Forms Advocacy Organization to Push for Re-Opening Elementary Schools

As the pandemic stretches into a second year, some students across the Bay Area have returned to their physical classrooms. But a greater number of school districts remain closed to in-person instruction, raising concerns about growing inequities for families who lack internet access and other educational resources.

Hoping to get more grade schools to resume on-campus teaching, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo decided to take matters into his own hands.

Earlier this week, he founded a 501(c)4 advocacy organization called Solutions San Jose, which will be dedicated to safely re-opening campuses—starting with elementary schools—and advocating for other policy solutions. The mayor tweeted about the initiative earlier today.

In a Feb. 11 email obtained by San Jose Inside, Liccardo cites a December report from the California Department of Public Health that found a low risk of coronavirus transmission in elementary schools. The study’s authors, who acknowledge that data is not yet comprehensive, cite two studies from the early days of the pandemic in Oise, France, where scientists examined the presence of antibodies in students and teachers who had been attending in-person school without masking or social distancing.

One of those studies, which looked at high schools, found that 43 percent of teachers, 59 percent of other staff and 38 percent of students had antibodies compared to a community prevalence of 9 percent. The elementary school study, which included six campuses, found only 9 percent of students, 7 percent of teachers and 4 percent of other staff had antibodies—which was more in line with community prevalence.

In the email, the mayor also notes that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, has backed recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to re-open more schools.

The CDC released those guidelines today in a report titled, “Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation.”

Similar to California’s color-coded blueprint that puts counties in different tiers based on test positivity and case rate, the CDC guidance includes four colored categories that determine whether schools can safely open based on community prevalence of the virus.

Liccardo, who has made closing the digital divide one of his key policy initiatives, said in the Feb. 11 email that “failure to re-open public schools violates the civil rights of our poorest families, creating a ‘separate but unequal’ education system.”

“High-income parents can work from home, send their kids to private schools, hire tutors, create learning pods, buy extra internet bandwidth and help their children succeed in scores of other ways,” Liccardo explained. “Our low-income students—despite the city spending more than $10 million to provide broadband connectivity to tens of thousands of homes—struggle with little other support and fall farther behind, while their parents must either work outside the home in essential jobs, or forego their paychecks.”

His letter includes a link to a petition to safely re-open schools, which garnered more than 2,100 signatures as of late afternoon Friday.

The push to re-open schools has been met with resistance from organized labor.

Though CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said last week that schools could safely re-open without staff being vaccinated, many teacher unions want to make inoculation, improved ventilation and routine testing mandatory before resuming in-person learning.

When reached for comment, the mayor said Solutions San Jose aims to build consensus on the issue. “We are starting to help unite San Jose residents around common-sense solutions,”he said, “like re-opening our public schools as safely and rapidly as possible.”

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase.

16 Comments

  1. Reopening schools will only exacerbate the issues faced by low income families in San Jose.

    This is motivated by business owners and politicians trying to “reopen the economy” at the expense of poor “essential” people’s lives. People are terrified of returning to work without adequate protection, amidst the prevalence of unmasked people and large parties all over San Jose.

    Lower income residents tend to live in multi-generational households, and are at a higher risk of passing the virus to more people, and at risk family members.

    By reopening schools, they’re attempting to force low income folks back to work, as they’ll be ineligible for unemployment with the convoluted and patchwork system of laws regarding leave, leave for the virus, and leave out of concern for vulnerable household members. Not to mention the convoluted rules regarding work from home for non essential jobs, I know middle class and white collar types are also worried about another misguided, premature opening as well. A downward slope of new cases is encouraging, the idea is to to get that number low to zero, not reopen everything the moment cases trend downward for political points with the business community.

    Liccardo is starting to sound a lot like Faulconer, let’s hope he doesn’t have grandiose ambitions of governorship as well. This country has sacrificed the poor to the pandemic since the beginning, for the sake of “the economy”. Monsters.

  2. Can we take a look at the SJ swampy donations to this new organization and the swamp creatures (Sam’s friends) it employs? This will turn into another corrupt pay-to-play scheme, just like his catholic high school project where his fellow swamp creatures donate & then he allocates SJ taxpayer $ for a new “program”, which is single-bid by his pet project and they then use the $ to hire his campaign finance swamp creature (who also happens to be his prestigious HS buddy!). Life in the swamp, SJ-style!

  3. It’s certainly unconventional, if not Hazzard County “21.” (2021)

    Normal, or let’s just say conventional or ordinary, people would just think of him making a phone call or two to the governor, or scheduling an appointment in Sacramento, to ask for what he wants, if it’s important. It’s not conventional or ordinary to actually form a political group for a current, temporary Concern.

    And do we know more about “advocating for other policy solutions”?

    (Money for “schools,” included?)

  4. Reopening schools will only exacerbate the issues faced by low income families in San Jose.

    This is motivated by business owners and politicians trying to “reopen the economy” at the expense of poor “essential” people’s lives. People are terrified of returning to work without adequate protection, amidst the prevalence of unmasked people and large parties all over San Jose.

    Lower income residents tend to live in multi-generational households, and are at a higher risk of passing the virus to more people, and at risk family members.

    By reopening schools, they’re attempting to force low income folks back to work, as they’ll be ineligible for unemployment with the convoluted and patchwork system of laws regarding leave, leave for the virus, and leave out of concern for vulnerable household members. Not to mention the convoluted rules regarding work from home for non essential jobs, I know middle class and white collar types are also worried about another misguided, premature opening as well. A downward slope of new cases is encouraging, the idea is to to get that number low to zero, not reopen everything the moment cases trend downward for political points with the business community.

    Liccardo is starting to sound a lot like Faulconer, let’s hope he doesn’t have grandiose ambitions of governorship as well. This country has sacrificed the poor to the pandemic since the beginning, for the sake of “the economy”.

  5. They should quote the UCSF study that was done looking at Marin County schools that have been operating with thousands of teachers/students on campus since last November. Only 6 school-based transmissions – and non from student to adult. This compelled UCSF to write a letter, citing that data/study, to all schools asking for them to open on February 1 – because they are seeing higher levels of mental health issues with the youth, and kids are falling behind every day they miss. Some kids are probably getting fatter, along with parents because activities and gyms are closed (and now school campuses are closing off to the public when our elders exercise there, and so do families) – and that is not good because the fatter we get, the sicker we get if we catch COVID.

    I mean, this publication could also look into that, too – but between Inside and Spotlight, my expectations are pretty low because something like opening schools gets less clicks than political divisiveness.

  6. So, on the topics of schools opening, you’re not following the science? And, did you do a poll that indicates people do not want to get back to work? I heard from a lot of people that would love to return to work, and their kids return to school. I am not sure who you are speaking for.

  7. How can anyone continue to advocate to keep kids locked up at home squinting at chromebooks? Are you trying to destroy these kids future just so you can claim racial inequity in 20 years, because I can see no other reason. You are leading these kids to slaughter for your petty political partisanship.

  8. There is more truth to this than anyone can imagine. The reaction to this pandemic will fuel the racial inequality narrative for at least two decades, if not longer.

  9. Sam should use his influence to get the teachers vaccinated first but this is only the first step. Vaccines are not the solutions as the virus continues to change and the old vaccines don’t work. Sam needs to Advocate for a fairer funding system from the state so that San Jose School districts can have smaller class sizes so students can socially distance (just like the private schools). Part time hybrid classes do not get parents back to work full time. Hybrid will be the only option for reopening schools this fall because districts can’t afford any full time/face to face options thanks to inadequate state funding. Also Sam can advocate that the cost/responsibility of testing for students/staff and contact tracing be the job of the local county and state health departments! Not the school districts or the states prop 98 budget. Finally, if Sam really cared, he would have opened/funded centers where the most vulnerable and low income kids could have gone during the day with wi-fi, and supervision etc. like the City of San Francisco. If Sam really cares, get yourself and your powerful buddies to the capital and advocate for San Jose schools that are funded fully by the state! (Not basic aid districts like Los Gatos, Palo Alto, Saratoga, etc. . Who get their money from local property taxes. Otherwise known as the rich school districts).

  10. Oh Sam, did you even bother talking to the San Jose superintendents and school board members about why they are not reopening? Did you listen to them? Did you offer support in problem solving obstacles to reopening? (Hint-the problems aren’t centered around the teachers union). I know you won’t listen to the teachers but can you at least listen to the superintendents and elected school board members?

  11. I teach elementary at a private school, and we have been back in person since the first day we were allowed to be, back in September. While I am extremely sympathetic to concerns about spreading the virus, there seems to be a good amount of evidence now that schools can significantly minimize the risk of spread by following certain precautionary guidelines. There is also a significant amount of evidence that replacing in-person instruction with distance learning is harming children during a critical period of mental development. I saw it in my students when they returned from six months at home, and it breaks my heart for the students at home. This is one of those times when we have to weigh two costs, but I think the cost of keeping students at home is far greater than many people realize.

  12. No Work, No pay. Why should teachers and their Union be treated any different than the rest of us out of work schlub’s!

  13. A very cunning, high-level supervisor I once had confided in me one of the secrets of successful office political warfare. He said: “Everything is always about something else.” In other words, when money, perks and career advancement are the pursuits, people will necessarily engage in deceit and subterfuge. The most effective strategy is to take actions the aim of which can be simultaneously interpreted in more than one way. Thus, hiring a public relations consultant for the ostensible purpose of boosting the profile of the tenth largest city in the U.S.—something that might be justified as “public outreach” or “branding” or promotion of the city–is simultaneously a way to give greater exposure to the mayor of that city for future electoral purposes (https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-mayor-hires-washington-public-image-specialist-to-boost-national-profile/).

    Liccardo has been preparing the groundwork for his next, higher-level position in government for years. This has involved initiatives and policies that have the dual purpose of appearing to address real issues facing city residents and, simultaneously, signaling allegiance to the wealthy and powerful whose attention and backing he will need to climb the career ladder. In all cases, Liccardo has sought to signal his allegiances, pay real dividends to elites and simultaneously market his policies as good for the public at large. A few examples:

    1. Under the guise of resurrecting the city and creating jobs, Liccardo led the charge to give Google preferential and exclusive access to City-owned land in 2018 to allow them to build a new headquarters in the heart of downtown with little regard and no hard requirements imposed on Google to mitigate the inevitable impact on housing affordability in our city (https://www.courthousenews.com/san-jose-oks-huge-google-downtown-deal-amid-opposition/);

    2. Under the guise of accelerating the construction of much needed housing in the city, Liccardo supported tax, fee and housing mandate concessions to residential developers Borelli Investment Company, KB Homes, Peery-Arrillaga and Jay Paul Company in September 2019, resulting in an estimated loss of $54.5 million in present and future municipal revenues. This, to guarantee the developers an average profit rate of 5.25% rather than their anticipated 4.13% rate, as estimated by the business-friendly analyses the Council relied on (https://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/ 2019/09/24/what-to-watch-for-as-sjs-city-council-votes-on.html; https://www.mercurynews.com/2019 /09/20/san-jose-to-consider-extending-subsidy-for-downtown-high-rise-residential-projects/; https://www.sanjoseinside.com/2019/09/25/sj-council-extends-high-rise-housing-incentives-on-split-vote/; https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-city-council-whopping-break-for-high-rise-developers/);

    3. Under the guise of creating a better transport system in 2019, Liccardo gave credence to the idea of selling part of the City’s subsurface for a transport tunnel to be built by an Elon Musk-owned company (https://www.kqed.org/news/11723569/liccardo-san-jose-exploring-airport-tunnel-with-elon-musk-spinoff);

    4. Under the guise of fostering commercial development in the city in 2020, Liccardo supported a massive giveaway via a ridiculously low linkage fee on commercial construction. In doing so, he and the council majority gave away tens of millions in future city revenues that would be dedicated to building affordable housing. Liccardo and company thereby ignored the evidence put forward by the City-commissioned consultants’ report on the cost of mitigating the affordable housing impacts of commercial development (https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-city-council-commercial-linkage-fee-gaining-favor-ahead-of-vote/; https://sanjosespotlight.com/after-years-of-debate-san-jose-releases-study-on-commercial-developement-fees);

    5. Under the guise of “digital inclusion,” Liccardo put much time and effort in 2020 into the “partnership” with AT&T, Verizon and Mobilitie. The deal gives the three corporations hefty advantages in access to the million-strong city market for internet and phone services without guaranteeing benefits for poorer residents of the City as claimed by the mayor (see https://www.sanjoseca.gov/your-government/department-directory/office-of-the-city-manager/civic-innovation/broadband-strategy-and-small-cell-deployment-5147; https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-approves-plan-to-expand-internet-access-to-all-students/);

    6. Under the guise of “unity,” Liccardo supported billionaire presidential primary candidate Michael Bloomberg in 2020 rather than any of the Democrats in the running while not concealing the fact that Liccardo himself was a beneficiary of Bloomberg’s network of public sector figures groomed to support his policy initiatives (https://sanjosespotlight.com/ san-jose-mayor-sam-liccardo-raises-eyebrows-with-mike-bloomberg-endorsement/delegate; https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jan/24/california-mayors-endorse-mike-bloomberg-us-election-2020-london-breed);

    7. Under the guise of fiscal stability, Liccardo in 2021 is teaming up with conservative and anti-tax constituencies and school district leaderships in pushing the idea of privatization of lands owned by school districts to boost their revenues. Rather than fighting for more progressive taxation of income and wealth in support decent education budgets, Liccardo, as always, is pushing the market solution, the stripping and liquidation of public sector assets (https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-mayor-proposes-plan-to-build-housing-on-school-property-gets-pushback/).

    8. Finally, under the guise of relief for poor families and children, Liccardo has very recently created a “grassroots” organization to get schools re-opened, an organization that can serve the dual purpose of boosting any potential future electoral project strategy he may have in mind (https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-mayor-forms-new-advocacy-group-to-get-a-little-more-control/).

    Selling public assets to the private sector, “partnerships” with mega-corporations, “market-based solutions” and, now, astro-turfing on behalf of school re-opening–all marketed as in the public interest–evinces a neoliberal addiction and serve as signals to the Bloombergs and business elites that Liccardo is a player. These have become Liccardo’s calling cards, the ones he will play in his bid to ascend the career ladder of service to the power elite.

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