On August 30, the Oakland Unified School District informed Oakland High School that it would stop providing on-site COVID-19 testing at the school, but many teachers and parents want testing services to resume.

“If you don’t test it, you don’t see it’s there,” said Christy Mitchell, an Oakland High School teacher. She and the other teacher who spoke to The Oakland Post for this article have asked to use pseudonyms because they fear possible retaliation for speaking out.

Mitchell believes it is likely that there were cases of COVID-19 present in the school that the district did not document because the ability of students and staff to get tested was drastically reduced when consistent on-site testing left campus. She is concerned that there may be people in school who have COVID but are not showing symptoms and could be spreading the virus without knowing it.

Anya Burston, another Oakland High School teacher, was referred to other OUSD COVID sites when she wanted to get tested last week, but found them inaccessible.

“They gave me the list of other sites where we could get tested, but they’re only open 8 to 4,” Burston said. “We work from 8:00 am to 3:30 pm.

When you factor in travel time, Burston says, it is effectively impossible for teachers to get tested at district sites if they are not at the school where a teacher is already working.

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesday, when they leave school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week that they have enough time to get tested after school. When the test is on site, students can get tested during the school day.

According to OUSD communications director John Sasaki, the district wants to bring back consistent testing to the site, but faces capacity challenges. The district provided a one-day contextual test service on Wednesday and said such a service could also occur again next week.

He encourages students and staff to pursue other testing options.

“We also encourage our students and staff to visit our regional testing centers, take advantage of community clinics, or get tested by their health care provider,” Sasaki said. “Likewise, we have provided home testing in all of our schools for families and staff to take when needed. Students are not allowed to miss class for COVID testing. “

Take-home tests are rapid tests, which have a higher false-positive and negative rate than CRP tests, which take longer to deliver results. Burston said she requested a home test after not being able to get tested at Oakland High School, but was told there was no one available because the school was sold out.

She was finally able to get tested at Contextual Service on Wednesday, but said that upon entering the service, she only saw one other teacher getting tested. She believes people missed using the contextual testing service because the district notified staff and students about the site less than 24 hours before it was released.

Sasaki said the district stopped providing regular on-site testing at Oakland High School after the number of positive cases began to decline at the school. In the first week of school, the district confirmed there were 22 positive cases among staff and students at Oakland High School. That number dropped to five cases in the second week of schools, and then fell back to one in the third week.

Oakland High School had the most positive cases of any public school in Oakland during the first week of school, leading to an entire class of students going into self-quarantine. The school also had tests available in abundance at this time.

Mitchell and Burston said that during the first week of school, when some teachers at Oakland High School heard that a student in their class had come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, they would take any their class to be tested on site. At almost every other site in the district during this time, students and staff did not have an on-site test available.

“Obviously, with this amount of testing, you’re going to have a lot more cases coming up,” Mitchell said. “The more we tested, the more cases we found. “

During the second and third week of school, Mitchell and Burston said that while tests were always provided on site, the school would run out. When teachers took their lessons to get tested, sometimes there wasn’t enough for everyone.

As testing became less available, the numbers for COVID-19 have declined. During the fourth week of school, when testing facilities left the site, the district did not document any cases of COVID-19 at Oakland High School. Last week, the fifth week of school, there were two documented cases.

“I think optics is a huge concern for the district,” Mitchell said. “But to pretend it doesn’t happen while you’re not testing it is very misleading.”

A group of teachers at Oakland High School are working to change the situation and hope to pressure the district to reinstate testing on the spot. A few days after receiving the official announcement that the district was removing on-site testing, they started talking to each other.

“A lot of us are really frustrated and we collectively felt we had to do something if the school and the district weren’t doing anything,” said Burston.

Teachers decided to publicize the issue through flyers they created requiring daily on-site testing at school and other COVID-19 safety measures.

They printed 300 leaflets which they stuck on the walls of the school and about 1600 small leaflets which they distributed to parents and pupils. Flyers related to an online petition, which more than 150 teachers, students, educators and community members have signed. The petition has interactive elements, in that it asks if these signatories would be interested in attending a parent / student / teacher safety meeting.

Jennifer, a parent of a high school student in Oakland, signed the petition. She has asked to be identified only by her first name, as other members of her family work at OUSD and she is concerned that they will face retaliation in response to her speaking out. She works in an emergency room and sees firsthand the devastation caused by COVID.

“I know there are a lot of kids with COVID because our emergencies are overflowing,” she said. “I always support the teachers and I think the on-site testing is definitely a necessity. “

Mitchell said teachers are considering direct actions to work on improving COVID-19 safety measures at Oakland High School.

If Oakland High School teachers were to take such action, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent history that they would. On December 10, 2018, the vast majority of teachers at Oakland High School en masse called in the sick and gathered outside Oakland City Hall to protest what they saw as low wages and ineffective tactics. from the Oakland Education Association, their union.

On January 18, 2019, they took part in a similar “sickout” action, but this time students and teachers from other schools joined them. Participants estimated that more than 300 people in total marched to support the teachers’ demands. These actions took place just before the educators’ strike sanctioned by the Oakland Education Association, which lasted from February 21 to March 1, 2019.

But teachers at Oakland High say that before embarking on organized action related to COVID-19 safety, parents must first understand what they are working towards and teachers need their support.

“I think it’s really vital that parents and teachers work together on this,” Mitchell said.

The Oakland Post’s local news coverage in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.


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