The Teachers Union and The Oakland Unified School District Battle Over Re-Opening of Schools Plan

By JR Valrey

The year 2020 can be described as one of the most uncertain years on record, where everything society has considered normal, has been thrown into disarray. Right beside employment and housing, the nation is dealing with an educational system that is bursting at the seems, during the pandemic, with a lack of hardware and software for the students to learn remotely,  as well as a lack of teachers and tech assistants to help young people with their academic learning as well as technical literacy. 9 months into the Covid pandemic what is the Oakland Unified School District talking about?

Kehinde Salter is a member of the Oakland Education Association, which is the teachers’ union that is battling the Oakland Unified School District to maintain a safe environment in schools for the students and the teachers to return. The debate is heating up, in light of new developments across the country, where certain elements of society are being forced to get the rushed Covid vaccine, while the world watches China recover with no vaccine. 

The most valuable element of our community are the youth, because the youth are the future. So we must protect them, and their genetic info, as if our lives depend on it, because it does. Kehinde Salter and the squad, on the Oakland Education Association deserve to be saluted for their hard work, and supported when they need community backing. They are our first line of defense, and they are doing a great job. Black community, please stay vigilant, because we are the biggest targets for the biological war that is being waged against us, by a government that would benefit from our destruction which they have shown us with the Tuskegee experiment of the 1950’s but also recently with the sterilization of prisoners in the 2000’s. Check out our community warrior Kehinde Salter as she informs us about deals being made behind the closed doors of the district about our babies and their education. 

JR Valrey: What are the plans surrounding students returning to schools?

Kehinde Salter: OUSD came out with some proclamation that they plan on having schools reopen on the 25th of January. However, Most of California is back in the purple tier as of right now, so that is clearly not happening. Furthermore, the District cannot re-open schools without teachers, and we are still negotiating the terms under which teachers feel comfortable returning to in-person learning. So, to answer your question, there are no plans to return at this point. The Oakland Education Association (teacher’s union) stands by it’s safety criteria for returning:

Criteria One: We must determine risk is low enough to return, with low community transmission in Oakland. OUSD must have a detailed, science-based testing and contact tracing program for all students, families, and school staff, paid for and supervised by county public health departments. There must be a downward trajectory, and near zero incidence of documented cases, hospitalization, and positivity rates for at least 14 days in Oakland in order to consider in-person instruction.

Criteria Two: Once Criteria One is met, OUSD must then ensure that Safety Standards and Precautions can be established and maintained. This includes providing PPE (i.e. masks, face shields, gowns, etc.) for all students and staff, class sizes small enough to accommodate six feet of physical distancing, increased cleaning and staffing inside buildings, and facilities upgrades for proper ventilation.

JR Valrey: What is the teacher’s unions position on mandatory vaccinations for returning students?

Kehinde Salter: There is no position. We couldn’t even all agree on whether we felt testing should be mandatory, let alone vaccinations. Some teachers don’t want to go back until vaccinations are available, but I am clear that I refuse to be used as a guinea pig for anyone, and I am definitely not subjecting my children to a vaccination. With that said, because everyone has the right to decide what they want for themselves and their children, we have not taken a position as a union on making anything mandatory. There are people who do not get the “recommended” school vaccinations because of negative side effects, and those are well researched and documented. I am not the only teacher who is aware of how this government treats its citizens, and cares more about the capital interests of the pharmaceutical companies rather than its people. So I do not believe that the OEA will have a position supporting mandatory vaccinations. It is not a part of our safety criteria for returning to school.

JR Valrey: What are some of the other issues surrounding re-entry?

Kehinde Salter: Will there be enough PPE? There are currently small learning pods happening at 21 campuses throughout the district, and the one at Madison Park Academy, where my children attend school, does not even have enough gloves for the few persons currently on that campus. Furthermore, there are only a total of 16 students distributed between 2 pods, located in the only 2 classrooms that have adequate ventilation, and enough room to be socially distant. Sixteen people. How does that work for a school like Fremont High, where I work for example, who has upwards of 800 students? That number does not even include the staff. Not only that, most classrooms in the District do not have adequate ventilation and are not large enough to have classes full of students who can be socially distant. Moreover thanks to Kamala Harris, OUSD has developed a culture of parents sending their sick kids to school for fear of truancy laws that were enacted, that will send the police to your home if your child “misses too much school”. Let’s be clear, truancy laws were not enacted because the state of California, and it’s school districts, are overly concerned with the level of education our students are receiving. They were enacted because school funding is tied to average daily attendance (ADA). That is why schools are concerned when students miss school, and that is what is behind this push towards reopening schools in the midst of a global pandemic. Students are missing in action more now than ever, school districts are missing out on their ADA money, and they want that funding. How do they get it? Re-open the schools. 

JR Valrey: How has distance-learning been working out for the district’s students?

Kehinde Salter: It hasn’t been. School districts across the country are reporting students failing at double and triple the normal rates. Of course English language learners, special education, and low-income students are having the most trouble for multiple reasons: lack of understanding the language, how to work online platforms, lack of family members available to help with homework due to language barriers, lack of direct access to special education instructors and instructional aides, lack of reliable wi-fi and technology if something happens to tech the schools provided, the list goes on. Then there are the students who do not have any of those issues, but are lacking self motivation or dealing with depression because they have been thrown into isolation.

JR Valrey: What is the district doing to assist the most needy students during this Covid period?

Kehinde Salter: The District is actually doing a lot for students during this time that has been beautiful to see. Students have all been given hot spots (that are working now) and tech in order to complete their assignments. Students and their families who need resources are being connected to rent support, grocery funds, food delivery, help finding employment, free covid testing at school sites, and home visits to check in with students and families who need the most help.

JR Valrey: What are the details surrounding sanitizing classrooms before students come back?

Kehinde Salter: There are plans, but teachers do not trust district plans, and for good reason. Prior to the pandemic, schools were lacking janitors, soap, toilet paper, paper towels, and regular cleaning schedules. All of a sudden, we are supposed to bet our lives on the district making sure that every school has multiple janitors, disinfectants, ultra frequent cleaning regimens for every space at every school, and a plethora of soap, toilet paper, paper towels, and hand washing stations? Again, we never had that before, we’re supposed to trust it now? Lack of supplies to have clean and sanitized schools was one of the reasons we went on strike the year before last, because it has been an issue in OUSD since I was a student, and I graduated in 1998. 

JR Valrey: How could people keep up with what is being discussed between the teachers’ union and the district?

Kehinde Salter: That is an excellent question, especially because it feels like we teachers are constantly being thrown under the bus, by our district. Why even mention reopening plans to the public when such plans are currently being bargained? Nothing can happen until there is mutual agreement. Even over the summer when bargaining between the OEA and the OUSD first began, all communication seemed very tit for tat. As sad as it sounds, until the OEA and OUSD come forward simultaneously, saying the exact same thing, no one should expect to be back in school for in person learning. 

JR Valrey: How could people keep up with you? 

Kehinde Salter: People can keep up with me online at www.lyricperformingartsacademy.com, www.artsatfremont.com, www.facebook.com/kehindek, and at https://www.facebook.com/kujichagulia.p, where my mother Sister Phavia Kujichagulia, my sister Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu and I host a weekly FB live show every Sunday at 3pm pacific standard time, about how to resolve racism.

 

 

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