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COVID: Oakland Teachers Seek Expanded Testing, Improved Ventilation Among Safety Demands

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – Oakland teachers are ratcheting up pressure on district leadership 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 supporters demonstrated outside La Escuelita Elementary School, before a special session of the Oakland Unified School Board, to hear OEA's proposal titled "Students Deserve Safe Schools".

The proposal calls on the district to:
• Expand rapid COVID-19 testing from regional hubs, to all campuses within the district
• Improve indoor air quality with "HEPA air scrubbers"
• Purchase 750 shade canopies and tables to expand outdoor seating options
• Develop an incentive program to hire more substitute teachers
• Develop protocols for smoke days
• Extend COVID leave expiration date from October 31 to the end of the school year

"How is it going? We still have needs that have to be met," said Megan Bumpus, Oakland Education Association Safety Bargaining Team Co-chair.

As colder temperatures and rain take hold, students will be driven indoors, and eat lunch together inside the cafeteria with little to no social distancing, according to Bumpus.

Video captured inside Rudsdale High School cafeteria in Oakland show several fans pointed upwards to promote circulation, with a relatively small HEPA filter nearby. A photo inside the REACH Academy cafeteria and multipurpose room show a large fan positioned at the door to force air out of the room.

According to Bumpus, three professional grade HEPA filters can be purchased for each of the district's 75 cafeterias that currently do not have adequate filtration systems, for $112,500.

"That's a very small price to pay to make sure that our students can eat in the cafeteria unmasked, when it's cold outside, or rainy, or during the smoke season," said Bumpus.

As for the shade canopies and outdoor tables, the proposal calculates 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 received a total of $283 million, and $100 million remains unspent.

"There's $100 million left that's earmarked, but it hasn't yet been approved for spending. Let's spend that on safety. Let's get more nurses in our classrooms, let's make sure there are enough substitute teachers, let's make sure there are HEPA filters. There's a lot of things that can be done," said Sarah Goudy, Oakland Education Association Safety Bargaining Team Co-chair.

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.

"While that money remains unspent, that money is supposed to cover the next two years. That money is supposed to last us through September 2024," said Sasaki. "We're always trying to find economical ways especially, but just ways in general, to conquer this pandemic so we can all move on from it. And anything that helps us within our school campuses is going to be looked at very hard by our staff. If something comes along that is really groundbreaking, that we can really use, we could certainly look at using some of those funds for that."

As for next steps, if the board decides to move forward with some of the union's proposals, it can direct Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell to begin negotiations between bargaining units for both parties.

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