12 Oakland Schools Close After Teachers Stage ‘Sickout’ Demanding Updated COVID-19 Pandemic Safety Measures

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) reported nearly 500 teacher absences on Friday, forcing twelve schools including nine high schools, two middle schools, and one elementary school, serving around 8,400 students to close.

Oakland students and teachers have demanded stricter safety regulations after returning to school amid another COVID-19 storm. Teachers formed their “sickout” to persuade the Oakland Unified School District to meet with teachers to address safety concerns and solidarity with their students. The “sickout” follows many similar demonstrations across the country from teachers and staff protesting COVID-19 conditions within their schools. 

In San Francisco, teachers called out of work on Thursday. In Chicago, Chicago school leaders canceled classes on Wednesday and Thursday after The Chicago Teachers Union voted to switch over to remote learning for the rest of the year. 

“It’s a way of demonstrating that if we don’t have what we need to be safe, and safety is a number one concern for learning, then we don’t do it. We shut it down,” one high school teacher, who asked not to be named, said

The schools affected by the “sickout” are Garfield Elementary, West Oakland Middle School, United for Success Academy, Madison Park upper (6-12), CCPA (6-12), Life academy (6-12), Fremont High, Oakland Tech, Skyline High, Metwest High, and Oakland International HS. Ralph Bunche.

“Technically, they’re not closed. They are still open. We do have much of our staff there, just the teachers are not there,” John Sasaki, OUSD communications director, said. “But, you know, we did inform our families yesterday with the schools that we knew were going to be closed because we knew that there were going to be so many teachers who were not going to be at school today.”

“We informed our families last night that the school wouldn’t be fully operational and to not bring students to school,” Sasaki continued. “So, in a way, it ended up being kind of a snow day or smoke day, if you will, for our students.” 

Students are standing beside their teachers with a district-wide petition asking Kyla Johnson-Trammel, superintendent and board member, to demand increased testing, KN95 masks for everyone, outdoor eating areas at every school, and remote learning. They are also asking for high-grade air filters in shared spaces, such as gymnasiums and cafeterias, extra support for school nurses, and no budget cuts to student services.

OUSD Students have given the board a week to meet their demands. If the demands are not met by Jan. 17, students will strike by not going to school starting Tuesday, Jan. 18. — More than 300 students have already signed the petition. On Jan. 21 the students plan to strike outside the OUSD Building and will last “until the demands are met.”

“Friday’s actions are not an official union action, but we’re urging the district and state leaders and our elected officials to listen to the urgent demands of all Oakland educators for better masks and more testing,” Keith Brown, the president of Oakland Education Association (OEA) teacher’s union said. 

“It’s critical that we have dramatic action from our decision-makers to address staffing shortages to ensure that our schools remain safe and are open for our students,” Brown continued. 

Although the OUSD has agreed on the extension of COVID-19 and plans to deliver KN95 masks to schools for staff and students, Sasaki said remoting learning was not an option regarding student and teacher demands in a press conference. He also expressed that the sickout is illegal but would not elaborate on whether the OUSD will pursue disciplinary action towards teachers.

Teachers have been pushing OUSD to improve COVID-19 safety measures since the district first considered fully reopening schools last year.

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