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COVID: Oakland Unified School District Warns Of Potential Sickout By Some Teachers

OAKLAND (CBS SF) – The Oakland Unified School District has warned parents that some teachers may stage what they described as an "illegal sickout" on Friday, as school districts across the Bay Area face staffing shortages during the COVID-19 omicron surge.

UPDATE: Oakland Teacher Sickout Calling for Increased COVID Safety Shuts Down 12 Schools

"We need to be clear: this action – at whichever schools it occurs – is likely to significantly disrupt basic operation and instruction and will negatively impact the safety of students," according to a district statement Thursday.

The principal at Oakland Tech High School, meanwhile, sent a message to parents asking them not to send their children to school. It goes on to say "it is highly likely that no instruction will be provided".

"We are not going to march ourselves into a known death trap," said Harley Litzelman, who is a history teacher at Skyline High School and one of the organizers of Friday's sickout.

He said the teachers union is not involved, but the idea for the sickout instead came together organically among teachers who do not feel safe in the classrooms.

"We're not going to continue to spread COVID to our students or bring COVID home to our families," Litzelman said.

He said the teachers are demanding the district put more safety measures in place including providing KN95 masks to all students, provide regular COVID testing at all school sites, and reinstate COVID pay for teachers, so they don't have to use their sick days due to COVID.

"If the only language the people in power understand is us withholding our labor, because that's what they ultimately depend on, then that's the language we'll speak," Litzelman said.

District officials said they did not know how many teachers would be involved or which schools would be impacted. The Oakland Education Association, which represents the teachers, has not sanctioned the potential sickout, according to Doug Sovern of KCBS Radio.

The district also pushed back on claims that schools are unsafe during the omicron surge, noting that most people in the district are vaccinated, masks are required, HEPA air filters are in classrooms and regular testing is available.

Earlier this week, OUSD touted a mass COVID-19 testing effort involving the distribution of tens of thousands of home test kits along with the operation of test sites during the holidays. District officials said the effort helped identify nearly 1,000 cases among students, staff and community members before classes resumed on Monday.

OUSD also criticized the timing of the action. "Moreover, an unexpected need to keep students home on Friday with little or no advanced notice is likely to force families to place their children in less safe environments. Most of our parents and guardians will need to continue to go to work on Friday even if their child's teacher participates in this unauthorized work action," the district went on to say.

The district has information on its COVID-19 protocols posted on the OUSD website.

Late Thursday afternoon, teachers organizing the sickout issued their own statement criticizing the district's response.

"Staff and students sit in half-empty classrooms terrified that they will be the next to get infected and bring the disease home to their loved ones. Meanwhile, Oakland Unified continues to stonewall our safety bargaining team, refusing to negotiate in good faith the safety protocols and resources we need to keep schools open safely," said a statement from Skyline High School teachers who plan to take part.

Skyline teachers issued several demands from the district, including mass distribution of N95 and KN95 masks, weekly PCR testing of students and staff, extension of COVID sick leave, along with the installation of HEPA filters in cafeterias and large spaces. The teachers also called for no budget cuts and at least two weeks of remote learning.

The potential sickout in Oakland comes as some teachers in the San Francisco Unified School District threatened a sickout over COVID-19 safety measures on Thursday.

"You need to talk about the teachers. You need to act like you care about the teachers," San Francisco Unified teacher Rori Abernethy, who organized the action, told KPIX 5.

It was not immediately known how many SFUSD teachers participated.

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