San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo in 2017. (Photo via Anthony Quintano/Flickr)

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is urging the county and San Jose school districts to collaborate to open schools as quickly as possible.

On Thursday, Liccardo was joined by community members, parents of young students and a family medicine physician to advocate for rapid vaccinations for teachers and reopening school campuses — especially elementary schools.

“Throughout this pandemic, public health authorities have urged us to follow the science,” Liccardo said. “Yet when it comes to safely opening our schools, it’s politics. — not science. — that has closed our schools and abandoned our poorest kids, all while opening bars, card clubs, and marijuana dispensaries.”

To Liccardo, parents — especially in lower income families — have the “terrible choice” of caring for their children at home or working to support them financially.

And even if a parent chooses to stay at home, the physical and social impacts of children staying at home is far too great to ignore, Dr. Angela Bymaster, family physician for the Healing Grove Health Center, said.

“Children are by nature, social creatures, and the vast majority learn best by attending in person school,” Bymaster said. “Now we’re approaching one year of social isolation, and many are becoming hopeless.”

Bymaster said because of COVID impacts, a 12-year-old in San Jose fatally overdosed and child just slightly older committed suicide.

She said she has seen students’ grades drop, children fall into depression, lose hope and subsequently fail to plan for their futures and gain weight, among a number of other negative health impacts.

“And then there are some students who are experiencing abuse and neglect. And we just don’t even know where they are right now,” Bymaster said.

The is because most child abuse is reported through public agencies like schools.

For children, coronavirus transmission rates are extraordinarily low — almost nonexistent, Bymaster said. And with COVID-19 vaccination for education staff starting Monday, she and Liccardo posed the question – what is holding schools back from opening?

“Dr. Anthony Fauci says yes, that can happen safely. Dr. Rochelle Wollensky from the CDC says yes, that can happen safely. Our own County Public Health, our State Department of Public Health, say yes, that can happen if it’s done safely,” Liccardo said.

That leaves the decision in the hands of district superintendents, who are primarily making reopening decisions based on parent surveys and negotiations with teachers’ unions.

So far, five San Jose school districts have either reopened or have set dates to reopen soon.

San Jose Unified School District, the largest district in San Jose and Santa Clara County, began phasing in cohorts for in-person learning on Wednesday.

The Union School District welcomed back TK-2nd grade students on Monday and on March 8, plans are to return to in-person learning for grades third through sixth, according to a letter by the school’s superintendent.

The Cambrian School District said it would return to campus by March 8, according to a letter by the district’s superintendent. Campbell Union School District’s superintendent said March 22 is the earliest date students could return to school.

The Moreland School District’s superintendent also echoed similar sentiment in the Jan. 29 newsletter, which outlined that TK-1 students could return by March 22 and the rest of the grades would be phased in after. However, the decision to reopen would be confirmed by March 1.

The rest of San Jose school districts say they are in the works of reopening.

In Santa Clara County, some private schools have reopened and many schools in Los Altos have also resumed in-person education, Bymaster said.

This indicates that schools serving more wealthy families are reopening, but public school districts serving low-income families are not, despite their greater need for in-person learning, she said.