Thousands of Oakland teachers threaten to strike over COVID protocol

Teachers in Oakland say they want to keep schools open, but also want to ensure they are safe for teachers and students amid the latest COVID surge. 

The Oakland teachers union and the school district met Thursday night, but couldn't come to an agreement. Teachers are threatening to strike if they don't reach an agreement on coronavirus safety protocols by Friday at midnight.

One parent expressed frustration over a possible teacher's strike.

"You can feel that the students are behind. The student level is not what it used to be because they need their teachers in the classroom," said Rand Kaiser who was picking up her 12-year-old son from Claremont Middle School.

She said a teacher's strike in Oakland public schools over COVID safety demands is unnecessary. "I think the district is doing their best. I appreciate what they're doing."

Kaiser's son Faisal Daoud said the school offers rapid testing and masks.

"More than half the class is empty. I feel like the teachers are a little more calm about it because there're not a lot of students she has to teach or deal with," said the 6th grader.

The Oakland Educators Association, the union representing teachers, says it wants a written agreement from the school district that addresses three core demands: weekly COVID testing at all schools with extended hours up to 6 p.m., the highest grade masks available to staff and students, and a certified adult in each classroom if the teacher is out.

"We see cafeterias and auditoriums being used as classrooms where we have two to three classrooms in one space," said Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Educations Association. 

Brown said the district agreed to safety protocols such as weekly testing during Thursday night's negotiations, but he said they didn't want to put that in writing.

"We need from the district a written agreement to make sure that there's accountability and enforcement," said Brown.

At Oakland Tech High, some students said there is only half the normal number of people in their classes and they have mixed reactions to a possible strike.

"Part of me is in support of the strike. But also at the same time, I don't think our school district or just our school are prepared to go online," said Theo Darci-Maher, a junior at Oakland Tech.

"I missed school because I caught COVID," graduating senior Namugga Nakayiza said she got sick during winter break and now wears two masks.

She said she'd like to see the district do more to protect staff and students such as weekly testing, "Everybody's making an effort to be safe to try to get through our school year and finish it strong, especially I as a senior."

The district and the union said they are hopeful they can reach an agreement.

In a statement from the district Friday morning, a representative said the district has come to eight different agreements with the teachers' union over the course of the pandemic. 

"While the MOU between the Parties covers ventilation, PPE/safety supplies, COVID Testing, Contact Tracing, and COVID safety protocols, the District is always willing to discuss new impacts as they are identified by OEA- the landscape is ever-changing," said John Sasaki, Director of Communications at OUSD.

The union president said a meeting with the two sides is scheduled for Friday afternoon.

If no agreement is reached by Friday at midnight, he said the union's about 2,700 members will take a vote this weekend on whether or not to strike early next week.