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Nearly one in three inmates at Richard J. Donovan state prison in Otay Mesa have tested positive for COVID-19 and the facility has seen 18 COVID-19 deaths, making it the site of one of the deadliest outbreaks in the state prison system.
In a new story, VOSD contributor Anissa Durham shares claims of persistent staff carelessness documented in court records and in anecdotes from attorneys, inmates and those who care for them that they believe fueled the crisis. They allege loosely followed safety protocols, little-enforced mask mandates, nurses’ failures to sanitize equipment and situations where COVID-positive inmates were left to mingle and infect others.
An attorney representing clients with disabilities who are incarcerated at Donovan told Durham that many have “described feeling like they have been given a death sentence” and being terrified of COVID-19 in their housing units.
Inmates and their families told VOSD they have also been frustrated by the lack of medical care and protection at the facility. The state has refused to say how many of the more than 3,500 people staying at the facility have been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation defended the facility and state Correctional Health Care Services, which provides inmate health care, and maintained that both have been committed to protecting staff and inmates.
On Wednesday morning, the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee is set to weigh President Joe Biden’s nomination of San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten to serve as deputy secretary of education.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for.
Rose-colored glasses: Marten has always oozed optimism when speaking about education; it’s part of what elevated her from a principal with no district leadership experience to her position running one of the largest school districts in the nation. But it hasn’t always landed well, particularly in our new reality, where prolonged distance learning has caused families considerable heartache. Her declaration earlier this year that the state of the school district is “unstoppable” provoked a backlash among parents who wanted to hear their families’ pain hardships being taken seriously. Will Marten acknowledge serious shortcomings in the system, and at San Diego Unified in particular?
Transparency: Marten has presided over a district that has been aggressively hostile to transparency. Officials have fought the release of public records, denied records existed only to later admit they existed all along, trained staff on how to permanently delete emails in violation of the Public Records Act. The district was singled out by journalists and First Amendment activists as an especially bad actor and one communications staffer even joked about murdering a Voice of San Diego reporter. The Department of Education must deal with Title IX complaints, among other issues, and transparency in those dealings is paramount. We’ll be interested in whether any senators press her on her record and how she plans to approach transparency going forward.
The achievement gap: As VOSD’s Will Huntsberry wrote last month, Marten “can make credible claims of academic progress, but the achievement gap remains just as real as ever and the suspension rate of Black students is largely unchanged.” San Diego Unified, of course, is not unique in reckoning with how to address inequities that hold some students back, and the pandemic has only exacerbated these problems across the nation. What’s Marten’s plan to tackle it?