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Oakland students threaten to boycott classes unless school district meets covid demands

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/12/2022 Kim Bellware
Oakland, Calif. elementary school teacher Carrie Landheer demands stronger safety protocols against covid, including district provided N95 masks last Friday. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) © Noah Berger/AP Oakland, Calif. elementary school teacher Carrie Landheer demands stronger safety protocols against covid, including district provided N95 masks last Friday. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Students from the Oakland Unified School District have threatened to strike and not attend in-person classes unless the California district reverts to remote learning or complies with a list of health and testing demands that include KN95 masks for each student, more testing and expanded outdoor space for lunchtime.

“There’s a lot of concerns regarding safety measures and how to protect us from COVID-19, especially the highly contagious Omicron variant. We must go back to distance learning until the cases go down again,” reads the online petition, which as of late Tuesday was signed by more than 900 Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) students. If the district doesn’t respond to their demands, the students said they would strike “until we get what we need to be safe.”

CDC weighs recommending better masks against omicron variant

Oakland students gave the district one week, until Monday, to meet the demands before boycotting classes the following day and holding an in-person strike outside district headquarters on Jan. 21, according to the online petition.

On Tuesday, the district appeared to respond to the health and safety concerns by announcing that it had distributed KN95 and N95 masks to teachers, and ordered 200,000 KN95 masks for students in the district that enrolls about 50,000 children.

In the district’s statement, it also said it had provided two HEPA filter air purifiers in each classroom and would expand covered outdoor lunch seating. The district’s testing protocol of providing rapid tests to students in classrooms where there has been coronavirus exposure and pooled testing — inspecting several specimens at once to see whether the coronavirus is detected in the batch — does not meet the student demand for twice-weekly testing.

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Video: Schools Closed: West Contra Costa School Closures, COVID Testing Efforts Draw Mixed Reaction (CBS SF Bay Area)

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In a brief video message, OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell thanked parents for getting students “tested and vaccinated.”

It was unclear as of late Tuesday whether the latest protocols from the district would be enough to avert the proposed student strike next week. A community Q&A session about the district’s coronavirus protocols is scheduled for Jan. 18.

As schools across the United States grapple with health and education concerns spurred by the latest coronavirus surge, the pressure on administrators to improve in-person safety conditions that normally comes from teachers unions is now coming from students.

The threat of a student-led strike comes after a string of high-profile standoffs between teachers unions and administrators over in-person classroom conditions amid soaring infection rates and record hospitalization totals.

On Friday, at least a dozen of Oakland’s 80 schools were closed by a teacher sickout when more than 500 teachers called in sick, according to KTVU; that move was not called by a union. Teachers demanded more health and safety measures in classrooms, calls students echoed days later in their own petition.

“We took matters in our hands,” Nikayla Dean, a sophomore at MetWest High School in Oakland, told journalist Eoin Higgins for his newsletter, the Flashpoint. “Not just with the strike but some people are trying to raise money to go get the KN95 mask and for weekly testing.”

The student demands over masking comes as sources with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Washington Post on Monday that it may change its mask guidance to favor KN95 and N95 respirators to curb the spread of the rapidly spreading omicron variant.

Read more:

Chicago, like other big cities, opens classrooms after teachers agree to return

Pfizer to produce up to 100 million doses of omicron-specific vaccine by spring

United Airlines says 3,000 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus

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