Safety in Oakland Schools: The Fight Continues

Image credit: Zack Haber

It’s been six weeks since the start of the school year in Oakland Unified School District, and many COVID safety measures are still not in place. There are only 10 Covid testing sites across the entire district, and many schools lack equipment for safe outdoor eating as well as HEPA filtration in the cafeterias. Parents and teachers are frustrated, as these issues should have been dealt with long before schools reopened. In response, some teachers and parents have organized safety meetings to discuss what safety measures schools should take to keep students and staff safe. They have also organized flyering, safety rallies, and media interviews to try to spread awareness of the need for such measures, and the failure of the district to provide them. 

While some schools have organized for access to weekly testing and outdoor dining facilities on their own campuses, this is not the case across the board. Teachers hoped to bargain with the district to implement these safety measures at every site, and have repeatedly tried to get the district to sit down and negotiate. After all, sooner is better – potentially life-saving – when it comes to safety in a pandemic. But the district has pushed bargaining back to at least the end of the first week of October – two months after the start of the school year! They claim they cannot consider a safety proposal from the bargaining team until it is “sunshined,” or presented to them in a public meeting. This is not an uncommon tactic used to delay or slow down the bargaining process. The district seems to be hoping that it can tire people out, and demoralize them. 

But now is not the time to give up. It’s the time to see the district’s maneuvers for what they are, and continue to fight for what students and staff need: weekly testing, industrial-strength HEPA filters for large spaces such as gyms and cafeterias, outdoor eating facilities, and more. The district’s tactics have made it very clear that only on-the-ground organizing will lead to any success at the bargaining table. 

Teachers, staff, and families are fighting for the health and safety of our communities, and the district ought to be ashamed of its stalling tactics.