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Sac City Teachers File Complaint with Cal-OSHA for Failure to Protect Students and Staff from Spread of COVID Following Outbreak

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“The physical distancing, the contact tracing, the notice to staff, the notice to families—the entire system broke down.  We’ve been totally let down.” Becky Van Nest, a fourth-grade teacher at New Joseph Bonnheim Charter School

Sacramento (September 8, 2021):  The Sacramento City Unified School District failed to mitigate a serious outbreak of coronavirus at the New Joseph Bonnheim Charter School and “instead aggravated those hazards”. Details about the outbreak at the local charter school were documented by The Sacramento City Teachers Assn. (SCTA) in a formal complaint this morning with the California Occupational Health and Safety Department (Cal-OSHA). You can view the complaint here.

Classes for the 270 students enrolled at New Joseph Bonnheim Charter School began on August 9. The school has twenty-three (23) staff assigned, including 13 certificated teachers.  Since the first day of class there have been at least twenty-four (24) positive Covid-19 cases at the school among both students and staff. 

The complaint alleges that the SCUSD has allowed an unhealthy and unsafe work environment by:

1.     Encouraging staff at the New Joseph Bonnheim Charter School with Covid-19 symptoms to report to work;

2.     Cutting back on custodial staff and not providing adequate cleaning;

3.     Failing to implement appropriate social distancing among students and staff, including unsafely combining classes due to inadequate staffing;

4.     Requiring a staff member who was not fully vaccinated to report to work even after exposure;

5.     Failing to adequately investigate Covid-19 cases;

6.     Failing to provide staff adequate notice when they had been directly exposed to those who had tested positive for the virus.

On Friday, September 3, the Sacramento County Department of Public Health took the extraordinary step of intervening at SCUSD and mandated that all staff and students at the school be tested.  The district conducted only rapid Covid-19 tests, rather than both the rapid test and the more accurate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that is evaluated in a lab, even though the district had PCR tests available.

“Superintendent Aguilar told our SCUSD community that we were safe to return to in-person learning and that the district was taking all steps to ensure that students and staff would be safe. We weren’t. I have four young children all under age twelve, two of whom are medically-fragile, and I tested positive for COVID even though I was vaccinated. I was exposed to a student and a staff member who were positive, but did not receive the proper notice,” said Becky Van Nest, a fourth-grade teacher at New Joseph Bonnheim. The physical distancing, the contact tracing, the notice to staff, the notice to families—the entire system broke down. We’ve been totally let down.”

“Parents, students and staff need real answers, and not empty promises, about how the district is going to keep our community safe,” said Nikki Milevsky, the first vice-president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association and parent of two children in the district.  “Superintendent Aguilar and the district have not been transparent, and they have not been cooperative.”

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