Oakland public school students return to school amid rising COVID-19 cases

Public schools across the Bay Area are set to reopen throughout the next few days as coronavirus infections are rising among children nationwide.

Students return to the classroom in Oakland and Lafayette schools on Monday, and on Tuesday students in San Ramon Valley return. On Thursday students in Mount Diablo Unified School District will come back to class.

In all, 110,380 youth tested positive for COVID-19 in the second half of July, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association

Alfonso Ramirez said it was a nerve-wracking decision to send his children, entering 3rd and 6th grades, back to their Oakland classrooms.

"Being the virus there, and the cases rising, you know as parents, we're kind of worried," Ramirez said, adding that his children are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine because they are under the age of twelve.

His son, Joa Ramirez, says he'd feel safer starting sixth grade online.

"It made me feel safe, and now I'm kind of worried to get sick from coronavirus," Ramirez said.

MORE: No vaccine requirement at Oakland Unified School District

Most of the 35,000 students in the Oakland Unified School District are going back to in-classroom learning. The school district continues to offer distance learning, but students who choose that option won't be guaranteed placement at their current school when they decide to come back to the classroom.

Mike Hutchinson is an Oakland School Board Director for District 5, representing 13 schools. He's pushing the district to adopt a resolution to allow students to continue at their current school if they choose to temporarily learn remotely. He thinks more families would opt to go back to distance learning if they know their child will have a spot back at their current school.

"That is not giving our families a true option, and it is not what we should be doing," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson also wants all OUSD schools, rather than a fraction of them, to provide COVID-19 testing twice a week. Currently, students and families can go to regional testing centers and specific schools to get their tests. They also have at-home test kits provided by the school district.

"Right now the precautions that are in place are symptom checks and self-evaluations. That will never catch asymptomatic cases. And we know that we have COVID and the Delta variant in the community," Hutchinson said. He is proposing two resolutions at the Oakland school board meeting on Wednesday.

The OUSD superintendent is stressing that all coronavirus protocols are in place to keep students and staff safe. Students, teachers, and staff are required to wear masks indoors, and teachers will be tested for COVID-19 at least every two weeks.

School district leaders also say they will continue to evaluate whether they need to adjust their protocols. OUSD is not making vaccinations mandatory for school staff.