Oakland teachers' union, district closer to deal as negotiations go into overtime

Negotiations between the Oakland Education Association and the Oakland Unified School District resumed at 4 p.m. Monday as both sides sought to find common ground on COVID safety protocols and avoid a teachers strike.

"We're very close in the areas of weekly testing and masking," said Keith Brown, the union OEA president.

Brown says the union and district entered Monday's talks after making good progress on those two issues during a 13-hour marathon bargaining session that ended at 5 o'clock Saturday morning.

"They are committing to have weekly testing available for students and staff at all school sites," said Brown.

Brown says one major change is that teachers and parents had asked for expanding hours at the school's COVID testing hub.

"Closing testing hubs at 4 p.m. did not accommodate their needs as working families, so the district has indicated a willingness to work to extend the hours," said Brown.

The union says there was also progress on the request for more protective N95 or KN95 masks.

"We're confident that masks will be available for all staff and all students," said Brown.

Monday night, negotiators were focused on the final issue of school staffing levels.

The union says some teachers are being asked to monitor multiple classrooms if someone is sick. Instead, the OEA wants the district to send administrative staff with teaching credentials out to school sites to help monitor classes.

"I know that at some schools where a quarter of the staff have been out, it's been total chaos," said David Gardner, an Oakland parent and teacher.

Gardner says he has confidence in his son's school and his own workplace, but he hopes there will be more uniformity across the district.

"I know that it's really different school by school and that does concern me," said Gardner.

SEE ALSO: Thousands of Oakland teachers threaten to strike over COVID protocol

Some parents say they understand both the teachers' concerns and the districts'

Judy Smith, an OUSD Parent, says she feels the district is trying to address safety concerns.

"I think they're really trying their best to do pool testing. My kid came home with masks that they were given from their schools. I think the teachers are doing the best they can under the circumstances," said Smith.

Jen Barrera, an OUSD parent of three students, says as a nurse she supports the teachers' call for more testing.

"They're interacting with 250 kids alone in the school and then they go home and spread it to their family and to their family, it's a massive ripple effect, so it's really important to support our teachers," said Barrera.

The school district did not return requests for comment.

The OEA leaders say they estimate the costs of their requests could be covered by federal and state COVID funding which the district has received.

If a strike vote is called, Brown says it would take 2-3 days to collect the votes, which would be done electronically, so parents would have time to prepare if there is any labor action.