By JR Valrey, the Minister of Information JR
Today is the first day of “full contact” schooling, for the Oakland Unified School Districts’ 2021/22 year, since pandemic restrictions were put into effect, in March of 2020. There is a mixed level of excitement to return to pre-covid normal, as well as skepticism that the state is moving too fast, disregarding the safety of the district’s school age children. With trying to survive being a blue collar worker or small business owner in the Bay Area economy, it is a serious task to stay up to date with protocols and decisions being made around this pandemic, so we are providing somewhat of a cheat sheet so parents, students, and the community can know the most current up to date info on how schools will be functioning now that schools are opening fully, and mandatory distance-learning is being terminated.
“Yes, the covid rates are spiking, and we will have to be very careful with a restorative return to school on Monday. We have to make sure all protocols and protective measures are taken with the reopening. Safety is first on all of our minds. The OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) will follow the CDC, state, and county guidance in our schools to ensure that we base our decisions on science, and the direction from public health experts. In addition, every school will receive self-test home covid kits for families to take the test in their homes. We have invested heavily to ensure multiple layers of safety precautions, including PPE, improved ventilation, availability of testing, and expanded contract tracing with the case monitoring team,” said Vancedric Williams, a member of the Oakland School Board.
After a year and half of pandemic disarray, and the district operating in panic mode, administrators, teachers, and parents are excited, for more than one reason, to get back to a normalized status.
“As a teacher, and a parent of school aged children (in the district), I am excited to return to school. Crisis distance learning is no match for live in-person instruction. Regarding safety, several safety precautions were put into place when OUSD had a partial reopening, this past spring. Those safety measures (mask requirements, PPE, air filters, soap and/or hand sanitizer in every classroom) are still in place,” said Taiwo Kujichagulia Seitu an Oakland teacher and a member of the Oakland Education Association, a teachers’ union in the Oakland Unified School District.
“The most important safety measure however, is to simply stay home if the student is not feeling well. District wide, all students and staff are required to stay home if they are displaying any COVID symptoms. Students who arrive at school exhibiting any symptoms will be sent home immediately. This is the best way to keep each other safe”.
One member of the Oakland School board does not think Oakland’s schools are prepared for re-opening at this time, and has been ringing the alarm loudly.
“This was always going to be a challenging start to a school year, especially given our lack of proper planning, but with the resurgence of COVID-19, reopening schools to 20,000 unvaccinated children needs to be done in a safe and equitable way. Masks will be required in classrooms and every classroom has an air purifier. Classes are being fully enrolled so there will be no social distancing,” wrote Oakland School Board member Mike Hutchinson, in an article published by the Post News Group on August 7th, 2021.
“All of our families have the option to select distance learning instead of in-person instruction, but currently the OUSD is telling families that if they opt for distance learning, that they will lose their placement at their school. The OUSD is also telling families that many of our programs will not be offered in DL, including dual immersion. That is unacceptable. We must have a distance learning program that is equitable and accessible to provide families with a true option. No families should be penalized for choosing distance learning,” wrote Oakland School Board member Mike Hutchinson.
The Oakland Unified School District has reportedly been given $300 million for pandemic relief for this school year.
“Extra funding has been utilized in a number of ways. Air filters have been purchased, and placed in all classrooms and shared spaces across OUSD. PPE has been purchased so that it is available on site at all times. Rapid and/or take home tests have also been purchased and are available on site at all times.
“In addition to safety precautions, you may remember the George Floyd resolution was passed last school year. This eliminated all OPD school site officers in schools across Oakland. So some of this additional funding has also been used to hire more counselors and restorative justice staff, in order to ensure positive school environments,” explained Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu, a parent and a teacher within the Oakland Unified School District.
“Finally, funding was used to ensure greater access to technology. Prior to the pandemic, many schools did not have enough chromebooks (laptop computers) on site for all students to use, throughout their school day. Several teachers had to share a single set of chromebooks, limiting access for many classes. With the additional funding, however, many schools have been able to secure more technology to provide for students,” said Taiwo Kujichagulia Seitu.
When and if health problems do arise, Oakland School Board member Vancedric Williams said that the protocol is to: 1. Notify principal; 2. Principal notifies contact tracing teams; 3. Contact tracer interviews principal and the positive person/ family members, and others as needed; 4. The Covid team meets with the principal to coordinate communication to a positive person, closed contacts, community; 5. Quarantine guidance will differ based on vaccination status and masking compliance; 6. Testing will be made available on-site in the 2 weeks following a positive case.
Oakland School Board Member Mike Hutchinson is urging people to please email the school board, and the superintendent to at least demand that:
- Students don’t lose their school placement for opting for distance learning.
- There is dual immersion offered in distance learning
- OUSD provide weekly COVID-19 testing at every school
- That Board President Gonzales call a special meeting immediately to address the many issues surrounding the beginning of the school year.