Update from an Oakland teacher: “Our safety depends on us”

Rally for safer schools held by Oakland teachers and supporters outside Oakland Unified School District School Board meeting on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.

It is now almost the middle of October, and we’ve been back at school since the beginning of August. The Oakland School District had the entire summer to prepare for our return in the middle of a pandemic, but little was done to guarantee the safety of students and staff. Currently, there are only ten testing sites across more than 80 schools. Many campuses lack HEPA filtration in their cafeterias, so students are unmasked indoors with no safeguards during meals. Contact tracing and safety protocols have been wildly inconsistent, and there is a shortage of substitute teachers and nurses.

The union’s safety bargaining team was willing to start the bargaining process immediately to protect our school communities. But Oakland Unified School District officials have consistently stalled the process.

After failing to respond to our request for bargaining dates, the district said bargaining couldn’t begin without first “sunshining” our proposal, or sharing it publicly during a school board meeting. District officials proposed waiting to do this until the next scheduled school board meeting on October 13.

We didn’t want to accept such a long delay, so we organized an email blast to the school board members. We asked them to call a special school board meeting to sunshine our proposal so that safety bargaining could begin immediately. The Board then agreed to hold a special session on October 6.

On the day of the board meeting, 150 teachers, staff, parents and community members held a rally to show the importance and urgency of these demands. The rally was covered by several news stations, as teachers explained the need for immediate action to make our schools safer. The district felt the pressure, and the following day we were finally given a series of twice-weekly bargaining dates, starting on October 12. 

We have said since the beginning of this fight that we will not win health and safety protections at the bargaining table. We will need to continue to organize and mobilize to keep the pressure on. Organizing moves the needle; it’s why the district finally agreed to bargain.