Oakland Unified says district is meeting striking students’ demands

Oakland Technical High School students leave campus after it was announced that all Oakland schools would close for three weeks over coronavirus concerns on March 13, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Oakland Unified School District officials are negotiating with students who walked out or stayed home last week due to safety concerns around COVID-19 and feel they are meeting students’ demands, a district spokesman said.

About 1,200 students signed a petition threatening to stay out of school starting Tuesday, Jan. 18 and until they get what they need to be safe, according to the petition. The students said in their petition that the district must go back to distance learning until the number of COVID-19 cases goes down again. To ensure a safe learning space, the students also want KN95/N95 masks and weekly polymerase chain reaction, also known as PCR, testing. PCR testing is not a rapid COVID-19 test.

“We feel we have very robustly addressed their concerns,” district spokesman John Sasaki said of the students demands.

According to the petition, students plan to strike outside the district headquarters beginning Friday until the demands are met.

Students previously demanded more outdoor spaces where they can eat safely when it rains.

Sasaki said district leaders have provided 200,000 masks in recent days. Work on the outdoor eating spaces is progressing and the district testing is as robust as any in the state. About 130,000 tests were performed by the district this past fall. However most of the testing is not PCR testing.

Sasaki said records were not immediately available regarding the number of students who did not come to school Tuesday because of the boycott.

Some students could not go to school if they wanted to because of a teacher “sickout.” Enough teachers stayed home Tuesday to force the district to close Bridges Academy, an elementary school; Acorn Woodland Elementary School; and United for Success Academy, a middle school.

Those closures are the result of the third “sickout” by teachers at a variety of OUSD schools. The teachers, like the students, fear for their safety because of COVID-19.

Schools will not close because students walked out, Sasaki said. The district believes school is the safest place for students who want to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Many people are vaccinated, masks must be worn, and the district has taken steps to create a safe environment through ventilation and air purification. The district continues to follow all federal, state, and local public health guidance around the coronavirus, Sasaki said.

Students who walked out or stayed home Tuesday will be considered absent. But Sasaki said the district is “not looking to punish anybody.”

Oakland Unified School District faces a loss of state funding because of the students’ lack of attendance since funding is based on attendance.

Students organizing the boycott did not respond to a request for comment early Tuesday afternoon.

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