OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – Oakland teachers are stepping up pressure on district leaders to spend COVID-19 relief funds on new safety protocols and equipment, ahead of the colder winter months.
On Wednesday, more than 100 members of the Oakland Education Association and their supporters demonstrated outside La Escuelita Elementary School, ahead of a special session of the Oakland Unified School Board, to hear the OAS proposal titled “Students Deserve safe schools ”.
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The proposal calls on the district to:
• Extend rapid COVID-19 testing from regional centers to all district campuses
• Improve indoor air quality with “HEPA air washers”
• Purchase 750 awnings and shade tables to expand outdoor seating options
• Develop an incentive program to hire more substitute teachers
• Develop protocols for smoke days
• Extend the expiration date of the COVID leave from October 31 to the end of the school year
“How’s it going? We still have needs to be met,” said Megan Bumpus, co-chair of the Oakland Education Association’s security negotiation team.
As colder temperatures and rain set in, students will be led inside and have lunch together inside the cafeteria with little to no social distancing, according to Bumpus.
Video captured inside the cafeteria at Rudsdale High School in Oakland shows several fans pointed upward to promote circulation, with a relatively small HEPA filter nearby. A photo inside the cafeteria and multipurpose room at REACH Academy shows a large fan placed at the door to drive air out of the room.
According to Bumpus, three professional-grade HEPA filters can be purchased for each of the 75 cafeterias in the district that currently do not have adequate filtration systems, for $ 112,500.
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“It’s a very small price to pay to make sure our students can eat in the cafeteria without masks, when it’s cold outside, when it’s raining or during smoke season,” Bumpus said.
For shade awnings and outdoor tables, the proposal calculates that a district-wide purchase of 750 of each item would cost $ 1,110,000.
The union said elements of the proposal can be paid for with COVID relief funds. The district has received a total of $ 283 million, and $ 100 million has yet to be spent.
“There is still $ 100 million that is set aside, but the spending has not yet been approved. Let’s move on to security. Let’s have more nurses in our classrooms, let’s make sure there are enough substitute teachers, let’s make sure there are HEPA filters. There is a lot that can be done, ”said Sarah Goudy, co-chair of the Oakland Education Association’s safety negotiation team.
Oakland Unified School District spokesperson John Sasaki said the district is open to new ideas and solutions, but must balance the need to continue ongoing safety programs.
“Although this money is not spent, this money is supposed to cover the next two years. This money is supposed to last us until September 2024, ”Sasaki said. “We’re still trying to find economic ways in particular, but just ways in general, to beat this pandemic so that we can all come out of it. And anything that helps us within our school campuses will be looked at very carefully by our staff. If something comes up that is really revolutionary, that we can really use, we could definitely consider using some of those funds for it. “
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As for next steps, if the board decides to go ahead with some of the union’s proposals, it can order Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell to begin negotiations between the bargaining units of the two parties.