Oakland Educators Association threatens strike if district fails to reach new COVID deal

OAKLAND — The president of the Oakland Unified School District teachers’ union has given the district 48 hours to reach agreement on an updated COVID safety plan for schools in the district, saying that without an agreement, the union will vote on the opportunity to strike.

In an email to union members, Oakland Educators Association president Keith Brown said 72% of OAS members had voted yes to go on strike if their bargaining demands weren’t met. not satisfied.

“Tonight the OAS Board of Directors voted to authorize me to proceed with a formal vote authorizing a strike by all members in the event that the OUSD does not reach an agreement with us within the next 48 hours,” Brown wrote Wednesday night.

Key OAS demands include weekly testing in all schools, high-quality masks for all students and staff, and to address staffing shortages in schools by “ensuring there is a adult for every vacancy in the class,” according to Brown.

Brown said there has been recent progress with better access to masks, extended COVID sick leave for employees and covered outdoor dining spaces. But when the OAS originally called for weekly testing in its proposal, he said, the school board changed it to biweekly testing in an amended resolution passed in the fall.

“Progress has been slow,” Brown said. “The district lacked a sense of urgency around the negotiations and it is unfortunate that it took a push from omicron and it took student protests and grassroots teacher activism to push the district to meet with us and also to reach an agreement around the COVID leave.”

District spokesman John Sasaki said the district reached an agreement with the OAS in July for safety measures for the school year, including PPE, ventilation, testing, tracing contacts and other protocols. Sasaki added that further meetings were planned with the union.

“Despite the challenges we all face, we are hopeful that the district and the OAS will once again find a way to come to an agreement,” he said.

Quinn Ranahan, a math teacher at Montera Middle School who was on the OAS safety bargaining team until December, said the union has been trying to negotiate with the district since August for better COVID measures. , including weekly testing, air filtration, masks, nutrition breaks and outdoor eating areas. Since then, she said, there has been “very little movement” in the negotiations, adding that the district had refused to negotiate parts of the teachers’ proposal until students threatened to boycott the teachers. course and to organize a demonstration.

In response to an 18-page proposal sent by the OAS, Ranahan said, the district sent a one-page counter-proposal and refused to negotiate on HEPA filters in cafeterias, outdoor dining safety , staffing and power outage procedures.

“We’ve been asking for these safe conditions for months and it’s exhausting to beg for things that can save lives,” she said.

Since Tuesday, students in the district have been boycotting classes by staying home and said they will continue to do so until the district responds to their demands by switching from in-person learning to online instruction. and providing PCR and rapid tests twice a week. , KN95 and N95 masks for each student, and providing more outdoor spaces for students to eat.

MetWest High School sophomores Ayleen Serrano, Ximena Santana and Benjamin Rendon created a petition, which was signed by more than 1,200 students on Thursday, after positive cases spiked at their school after returning from school. winter holidays on January 3.

“It’s just us telling the district to give us what they say they gave us because we haven’t received it,” Serrano said.

Teachers at Bridges Academy, United for Success Academy and Acorn Woodland Elementary staged a ‘sickness’ and car caravan in solidarity with students on Tuesday, forcing the district to close schools for instruction in due to a lack of personnel, confirmed Sasaki.

Sasaki told a news conference on Tuesday that the absentee rate across all classes and schools was 24.6% on Tuesday – down from 20.9% in the first week of January and 28.1% in the second week. At least 230 teachers called in sick on Tuesday, compared to an average of 250 daily teacher absences on days without teacher illness.

District officials said school staff are distributing 200,000 KN95 masks to students this week, installing more covered outdoor dining spaces and implementing a “robust” COVID-19 testing system across the district. . This includes 10 testing centers that opened last Friday and Monday, bi-weekly testing for secondary schools, and weekly group testing in elementary schools.

Sasaki did not comment further on the repercussions students might face for the boycott, but said Tuesday it would count as an “unjustified absence” for any student who participated.

“I want to emphasize that our goal in all of this is not to discipline anyone,” he said. “It’s about making sure our children are where they are safest, which is in school where they can learn and get the nutrition they need. We are not looking to punish anyone.

Some teachers disagree that in-person schools are the safest place right now. Jazmine Lopez, who teaches 7th grade humanities at the United for Success Academy, said she had received an email every day for the past week informing her that she had been exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID.

“My reaction is that it’s extremely laughable,” she said. “I invite that person to come to one of our classrooms with 33 children and let me know if they feel safe. Under current conditions that is simply not true…Our administrators are doing their best to solve these problems in many amazing ways, but when you see how many students are absent from your class, you can’t say it’s safe.

Andrew B. Reiter