The first day of full contact school in Oakland after lifting COVID restriction

by JR Valrey, the Minister of Information JR, www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com

This is the first full week 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 contact 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.

Safety measures used in the partial reopening this past spring – mask requirements, PPE, air filters, soap and/or hand sanitizer in every classroom – are still in place.

“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 feeling unwell. 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. 

Currently the OUSD is telling families that if they opt for distance learning, that they will lose their placement at their school.

“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 Aug. 7, 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,” wrote Hutchinson. 

“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.”

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, an OUSD parent and a teacher. 

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.

“Finally, funding was used to ensure greater access to technology. Prior to the pandemic, many schools did not have enough Chromebooks 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,” she added. 

When and if health problems do arise, Oakland School Board member Vancedric Williams said that the protocol is to: 1) Notify the principal. 2) The principal notifies contact tracing teams. 3) The contact tracer interviews the principal and the positive person or family members and others as needed. 4) The COVID team meets with the principal to coordinate communication to a positive person, close contacts and community. 5) Quarantine guidance will differ based on vaccination status and masking compliance. 6) Testing will be made available on-site in the two 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.
  • Board President Gonzales call a special meeting immediately to address the many issues surrounding the beginning of the school year.

JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com or on Facebook. Visit www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com to read more.