Conflicting messaging adds to confusion

September 29, 2021

By Luke Wrin Piper, Leticia Luna, Gretchen Zimmerman and Ulysses Smith

Just weeks away from the deadline for the district’s vaccine mandate, members of the Peralta community were still looking for information as the administration promised answers at an upcoming “town hall.”

In an August 5 announcement concerning the return to campus, Interim Chancellor Jannett Jackson said that a vaccination requirement will serve an important public health purpose by providing maximum protection for district students and staff. In an updated August 18 announcement, she refers readers to the Safe Peralta website, which lists October 7 as the date that all students, faculty, and staff are required to have shown proof of vaccination or to have submitted requests for “exceptions.”

On September 28, a message was sent to Peralta faculty, classified professionals  and administrators announcing an October 4 Safe Peralta Return to Campus Town Hall  in which the “soft launch” of a return to campus would be discussed with the Peralta community. The town hall is open to all Peralta community members, including students, but students were not informed of the town hall until September 29.

In that September 29 email to students, Jackson announced that the mandate will be in effect for students on October 13, a notable change from the original October 7 due date. 

Mark Johnson, Executive Director of the Department of Marketing, Communication & Public Relations, explained in an email to the Citizen that even though the deadline for students has shifted, the deadline for employees is still October 7. Johnson said the PeopleSoft system students will use to upload their vaccination status will “go live” on October 4, so the district “wanted to give students a bit more time to upload their documentation once the system is available.” 

However, as of Wednesday evening, the website still showed a note in bold print that said “*All students, faculty, and staff are required to have shown proof of vaccination (or have submitted requests for exceptions) by October 7, 2021.”

Safe Peralta Website

A September 29 screenshot from the website.

Peralta Federation of Teachers (PFT) President Jennifer Shanoski told the Citizen that she had not been informed that the deadline for students had been moved. Shanoski stated that the PFT executive counsel absolutely supports the vaccine mandate, but was concerned with the district’s poor communication regarding the details of the rollout. “Lack of communication means there’s a lot of uncertainty and mistrust in the district’s ability to implement this return,” Shanoski said.

Alejandro Acosta, shop steward with SEIU 1021, the union that represents classified professionals, also said he had not heard of the extension for students.

Acosta told the Citizen that messages to classified staff from the chancellor’s office and senior college administrators have been divergent and conflicting from the beginning of the pandemic, growing “precipitously worse” up until the present. 

He expressed that most of his frustration is based in empathy for the concerns of the rest of his SEIU colleagues, who are largely concerned over the lack of consistent or clear communication and the fact that administrators who are living out of the area — or even out of state — are making decisions that affect the entire Peralta community. 

“From our perspective, (they are) setting sort of arbitrary dates, with reasoning that we don’t understand and doesn’t seem to be based in any kind of data collection around the needs of students,” Acosta said. 

“It’s just — it’s a bit problematic. I wish that it was being done in a more transparent, inclusive, even democratic sort of way.”

The town hall was also announced during the Board of Trustees meeting on September 28. Following the announcement, Student Trustee Mike-A “Micah” Cooper questioned whether information for the town hall would be “disseminated” to the students via email or posted on the district website. 

Mark Johnson assured Cooper that students would be sent the information through the “usual channels” which is “posting on the website and social media.” Cooper inquired again if the information would be sent via email, to which a visibly irritated Johnson responded “Yes–it is.” 

Peralta’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts did not have any mention of the Safe Peralta Return to Campus Town Hall as of September 29.

Johnson added that the town hall had been “announced earlier today” but clarified, with Cooper’s questions, that the email had just been emailed to district employees. Cooper thanked Johnson and went on to inform the community of their daily office hours, offering their email and number.

The Peralta community is directed to the website for a Zoom link for the town hall scheduled for October 4. While the meeting ID for the town hall functioned properly, the meeting link on the Peralta website meant to allow community access to the meeting seemed as though it was invalid. As of Wednesday night, the link brought users to a page marked “Invalid meeting ID”. According to Zoom customer service representatives, the error code indicated that the Zoom meeting has either expired or deleted. It is unclear if the Town Hall link promoted to the Peralta community will be operational on Monday. 

A screenshot from zoom indicating that the town hall link isn't working

A September 29 screenshot from Zoom using the advertised link for the October 4 district Town Hall.

Some Peralta students have voiced concerns over the lack of accessible information and direction regarding the mandate itself, including how to go about making the October 13 deadline. 

Laney student Tim D., who did not want to give his last name, said he had not received any emails from the district and recommended that the colleges put posters around campus. 

“There’s nothing. I feel like they should be communicating better. Why is it a word of mouth thing, right? The worst sort of communication.”

Students interviewed by the Citizen for this story indicated that they do not check their Peralta email frequently.

In a conversation with the Citizen, Cooper expressed how students at Peralta pull information from different sources, including faculty and social media, but rarely email or the Peralta website. Cooper suggested that texts should be sent out to students, announcing the deadline and guiding students towards the information they need.

“We should really be utilizing all of the announcement systems we have available, especially for something this important.”

The Town Hall: Safe Peralta Return to Campus will be held on Monday, October 4. Current published meeting information lists the Webinar ID as 843 4576 4342 with a passcode of 393416. According to the page for this event, the Town Hall meeting will be recorded and made available on YouTube.