“The union pulled the wool over teachers’ eyes”
Oakland schools set to reopen amid surge in pandemic
Jonathan Burleigh at the World Socialist Web Site
On March 20, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) narrowly passed an agreement reached by the union to force teachers to report for in-person instruction on April 14. The deal dropped many of the longstanding demands for which teachers had fought, including tying a return to school sites to low transmission rates in the county and hardest hit zip codes. Instead, after just a few days of teacher prep, students are expected to show up on April 19 regardless of the state of the pandemic.
In tandem with the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the OEA pushed aggressively for teachers to approve their miserable agreement with Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). The vote in Oakland was 1,024 to 790 in favor, or 56 percent to 44 percent. Given that only 78 percent of Oakland teachers participated in the vote, less than half of OEA members actually approved the deadly deal to reopen schools. OUSD has 2,332 teachers, who serve roughly 37,000 students.
This deal recklessly endangers the health of educators, students and families, while also callously disregarding the educational needs of students. In order to contain the pandemic and save lives, Oakland educators must prepare to fight independently of the unions through the development of the Northern California Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee. This committee must be expanded into every school and neighborhood and serve as a democratic fighting organization to resist the reopening efforts driven by the ruling elites.
A new surge of the COVID-19 pandemic has already started across the US, fueled by school reopenings, the loosening of public health measures and the uncontrolled spread of more infectious and lethal variants. Over the past week, the rate of new infections increased in 34 states, test positivity rates increased in 38 states, and hospitalizations were up in 20 states. Vaccination rates remain far below what is necessary to safely achieve herd immunity.
In Michigan, where K-12 schools have become the top source of new COVID-19 outbreaks, the average daily infection rate is over four times higher than in February. The latest surge has barely registered in California’s statistics, but the rate of new cases has leveled out and begun to climb once again.
In California, the three main variants of concern are all spreading uncontrolled: the B.1.1.7 British variant that is significantly more transmissible, the P.1 Brazilian variant that current vaccines are less effective against and has caused numerous reinfections in patients, and the B.1.351 South African variant. The more the pandemic is allowed to spread, the greater the danger that new variants emerge that are resistant to current vaccines and could potentially turn COVID-19 into a persistent, endemic disease like the flu.
Beyond the health risks, teachers blindsided by the OEA’s betrayal are now scrambling to cobble together plans to radically change their classes over the next two weeks. Underscoring the absurdity of the mad dash to reopen schools, when students return there will only be six weeks left in the school year. As of this writing, the union and the district have not even proposed a schedule, leaving teachers in limbo.
Jeffrey, a special education teacher at an elementary school in East Oakland, spoke with the World Socialist Web Site about the impact of the drive to reopen schools. As a resource service provider, he provides specialized academic support to students who spend most of their time in the general education classroom setting.
“At the beginning of the year, it took us almost two months until we were able to provide services to our students. It was only in October that we started really seeing the kids and just last week that I felt like I finally was in the groove with good attendance and results from my caseload. I have full groups coming, and it works, but they’re going to throw it all out for something completely new and unprepared. My biggest fear is that it will take that long again to set up hybrid instruction.”
Teachers have so far seen only rough proposals for schedules that raise more questions than they answer. Instead of fully remote learning, where teachers have built small reading groups with differentiated instruction, the district and union have been toying with hybrid instruction, in which students who opt-in are split into two cohorts that receive four hours of in-person instruction a week.
In the ordinary functioning of an elementary school,
teachers rely on resources and techniques to help
students—especially those who have experienced trauma—to
emotionally regulate themselves throughout the school day.
Common measures to help an upset student, such as letting
them cool down in a neighboring classroom, are out of the
question in a pandemic.