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Oakland Unified Celebrates 1,000 African American Honor Roll Students

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For the fourteenth straight year, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is celebrating the academic accomplishments of African American students across the district.

 

Over the 2014-15 school year more than 1,000 African American students, between grades 8-12, earned a 3.0 or above, making this the largest celebration of its kind in the nation.

 

The legacy of this event was built from the commitment and dedication of Oscar Wright and leaders of the African American Task Force 13 years ago.

 

Currently the Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA), led by Executive Director Christopher P. Chatmon, has partnered with Mr. Wright and the community at-large to inspire academic excellence that is integral to success.

 

Oakland educators and families celebrated this occasion on May 11 at Acts Full Gospel Church in Oakland.

Community

OUSD Ended Oakland High’s Onsite COVID Testing, Parents and Teachers Want It Back

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

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Oakland High School on September 13. Photo by Zack Haber.

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

“If you don’t test for it, you don’t see that 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 requested to use pseudonyms because they fear possible retaliation for speaking out.

Mitchell thinks it is likely there have been COVID-19 cases present in the school that the district has not documented because student and staff’s ability to get tested was greatly reduced when consistent onsite testing left campus. She worries there could be people attending school who have COVID but are not showing symptoms and could unknowingly spread the virus.

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

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

If one factors in commuting time, Burston claims, it’s effectively impossible for teachers to get tested at district sites if they are not at the school a teacher is already working at.

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

According to OUSD Director of Communications John Sasaki, the district wants to bring back consistent testing to the site but is facing difficulties related to capacity. The district provided a one-day pop-up testing service on Wednesday, and said he said such a service possibly could happen again next week, too.

He encourages students and staff to pursue other testing options.

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

The take-home tests are rapid tests, which have a higher rate of false positives and negatives then CRP tests, which take longer to deliver their results. Burston said she asked for an at-home test after not being able to get tested at Oakland High School, but was told there were none available because the school had run out.

She was eventually able to get tested at the pop-up service on Wednesday, but she said when she accessed the service she saw only one other teacher getting tested. She thinks people missed out on utilizing the pop-up testing service because the district informed staff and students about the site less than 24 hours before it appeared.

Sasaki said the district stopped providing regular on-site testing to Oakland High School after the number of positive cases began to decline at the school. During the first week of school, the district has confirmed there were 22 positive cases among staff and students at Oakland High School. This number dropped to five cases during the schools’ second week and then dropped again to one case during the third week.

Oakland High School had the most positive cases of any public school in Oakland during the first week of school, which lead to an entire class of students going into quarantine. The school also had abundantly available testing at that time.

Mitchell and Burston said during the first week of school, when some Oakland High School teachers heard a student in their class had come into contact with a person who had tested positive for the virus, they would take their entire class to get tested on site. At almost all other district sites during this time, students and staff did not have onsite testing available.

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

By the second and third week of school, Mitchell and Burston said although tests were still provided onsite, the school would run out of them. When teachers would take their classes to get tested, sometimes there weren’t enough available for everyone.

As testing became less available, COVID-19 numbers went down. During the fourth week of school, when testing facilities had left the site, the district documented no COVID-19 cases at Oakland High School. Last week, the fifth week of school, there were two documented cases.

“I think the optics are a huge concern for the district,” Mitchell said. “But pretending it’s not happening while you’re not testing for it is very disingenuous.”

A group of Oakland High School teachers are working to change the situation and hoping to pressure the district to bring back onsite testing. A few days after they received official word that the district was removing onsite testing, they began talking with each other.

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

The teachers decided to spread word about the issue through flyers they created demanding onsite testing every day at the school and other COVID-19 safety measures.

They printed 300 flyers they put on walls throughout school and about 1,600 smaller flyers that they distributed to parents and students. The flyers linked to an online petition, which over 150 teachers, students, educators and community members have signed. The petition has interactive elements, in that it asks if those signers would be interested in attending a parent/student/teacher safety meeting.

Jennifer, a parent of a student at Oakland High School, signed the petition. She asked to only be identified by her first name, as other members of her family work at OUSD and she fears they could be retaliated against in reaction to her speaking out. She works in an ER and sees devastation COVID causes first hand.

“I know there’s a lot of kids out there with COVID because our ERs are packed,” she said. “I always support the teachers and I think onsite testing is definitely a necessity.”

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

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

On January 18, of 2019, they participated in a similar “sickout” action, but this time students and teachers from other schools joined them. Participants estimated over 300 people in total marched to support teacher demands. These actions came just before the Oakland Education Association sanctioned educator strike, which lasted from February 21 to March 1, 2019.

But Oakland High teachers say before they engage in an organized actions related to COVID-19 safety, parents first need to understand what they are working toward, and teachers need their support.

“I think it’s really vital for parents and teachers to be working hand in hand on this,” said Mitchell.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news 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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Bay Area

New Assemblymember Mia Bonta to Caucus With 3 Legislative Groups

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

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Assemblymember Mia Bonta, (third from left), with (left to right) Senator Steve Bradford, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurman, U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, assemblymembers Isaac Bryan Reggie Jones-Sawyer, and Kevin McCarty.

Soon after Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) was sworn in last week to represent California’s 18th Assembly District — which covers parts of East Bay — she signed on as a member of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus (CLWC), the California Latino Legislative Caucus (CLLC), and the California Black Legislative Caucus (CLBC).

Bonta is the 11th member of the Black Caucus and the only lawmaker representing a district in the Bay Area. In the Latino Caucus, she is the 30th member, and out of 120 lawmakers in both houses of the state Legislature, she is the 39th woman.

“Special congratulations to our newest member @MiaBonta, who was sworn into the Assembly this morning! #AD18 has chosen a fantastically fearless representative, and I look forward to working with you Assemblymember Bonta! #CALeg,” wrote Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D- San Diego).

Mialisa “Mia” Tania Bonta, who is Puerto Rican of African descent, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University in 1993 and a Master of Education (Ed.M.) from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1996. Bonta also received a J.D. from Yale University Law School in 1999.

Her work experience includes over 20 years working with nonprofits, including serving as CEO of Oakland Promise, a college and career prep program for Alameda County high school students.  She was also president of the Alameda Unified School District Board from 2018 to 2021.

“Congratulations to @MiaBonta on her election to the Assembly, which not only made her the first Afro Latina in the Legislature, but also raised the number of women in the Legislature to an all-time high,” California Lt. Gov., Eleni Kounalakis stated on Twitter.

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

“I am deeply honored to represent the 18th Assembly District. Our district has a long history of bold, progressive, leadership and I plan to continue this work in our diverse district,” Bonta tweeted September 7. “I’m ready to fight for bold solutions to issues like homelessness, housing affordability, climate change, and criminal justice reform for AD-18 and all Californians. I am ready to get to work.”

Bonta steps in to replace her husband, Rob Bonta, who vacated the AD 18th seat in April after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him California Attorney General, replacing Xavier Becerra, who is now United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.

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African American News & Issues

Jobs, Mental Health, Gun Violence: Cal Leaders Discuss Helping Black Men and Boys

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Young Black Boy Reading a Book, Stock Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a meeting last month that brought legislators face-to-face with community organizers to discuss investing in African American and other youth of color in a “post-pandemic California.”

Introducing the various panelists, committee chair Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, spoke about the bipartisan nature of the committee’s goals.

He said people from different backgrounds and political perspectives reach agreement when talking about the plight of youth of color because their conversations are based on hard numbers.

In California, per capita, Black men and boys are incarcerated more than any other group; are unhoused more than any other group; are affected by gun violence more than any other group; and in public schools, Black children’s standardized test scores fall only above children with disabilities.

“One of the things that brings both sides of the aisle together is data. What we would like to see is either internal audits or accountability measures to show that your numbers are not only successful but you’re keeping data over a period of time showing your success rate,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Committee vice-chair Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a Republican, agreed with this assertion.

“I am looking forward to the instruction that we’re going to get today,” Lackey said. “This is a part of our population that deserves the attention and a much stronger effort than has been displayed in the past.”

The first topic discussed during this meeting was gun violence, as panelists towed the line between cracking down on gun violence and preventing the over-policing of communities of color.

“How can we do this without returning to a punitive approach that grows the prisons, the jails and the criminalization of our community without achieving the public safety we so desire,” asked the Rev. Michael McBride who is known in the Bay Area as “Pastor Mike.” McBride is a social justice advocate and the national director for Urban Strategies/LIVE FREE Campaign with the Faith in Action Network.

The meeting was an opportunity for participants representing community-based organizations to share ideas with legislators with the hope of influencing their decision-making.

As of 2019, California had the seventh-lowest firearm mortality rate in the country. But with the state’s large population of almost 40 million people – the largest in the country — that still equated to 2,945 deaths that year.

“As everyone knows, there are probably too many guns in too many people’s hands who should never probably ever have guns,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Jones-Sawyer addressed the racial element of victims of gun violence in America.

“Many of those individuals were Latino and African American so it behooves us that post-pandemic, we need to figure out what we’re doing, what we need to do if we want to protect our boys and men of color,” Jones-Sawyer said.

He also offered up part of a solution.

“This year we need to infuse the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program (CalVIP) with a large sum. We did put in money for a large sum to fund the work that we so desperately need to get not only guns off the street but out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

The second topic on the agenda was post-pandemic mental health care.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, chief executive officer of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, spoke on the intersectional nature of mental health issues in communities of color.

“Historically, Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) communities’ mental health and substance abuse disorder services have been impacted by several factors including access to treatment, cultural beliefs and stigma,” she said.

Largely, Clark Harvey said mental health treatment for BIPOC people has not been preventative.

“When BIPOC individuals do seek help, it tends to be at a time of crisis; at an emergency room, a psychiatric hospital or due to some type of interaction with law enforcement,” Harvey said.

She also spoke about the increase in opioid use, suicide and calls to crisis hotlines for boys and men of color.

Two of the programs in California mentioned during the meeting that are making headway on mental health problems facing Black men and boys are COVID-19 Black, an organization dedicated to lessening the effects the pandemic has had on the Black community, and Strong Family Home Visiting Program, a Los Angeles County-based program that provides in-home family support services.

Wraparound service approaches to care were also discussed as a way to shift “focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and instead follows a strengths-based, needs-driven approach,” according to the California Department of Social Services.

The last topic of discussion was on career pathways and building generational wealth for communities of color.

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, highlighted that most of the disparities in communities of color can be traced to economics.

“Some of the challenges facing boys and men of color stem from economic challenges in their communities and lack of investment for years prior to this administration,” Gray said.

“The pandemic induced economic hardships that we’ve experienced have exacerbated those issues with many businesses closing their doors and roughly 40% of Black and Latinx businesses closed,” Gray continued.

Gray claimed that it is not all doom and gloom, however, as she mentioned what the state has done to assuage these disparities.

“The good news about the challenges we have seen is that our leadership, both in the administration and in the Legislature, have created access to programs, resources and financial assistance for small businesses to help with economic recovery and make an impact on some of the challenges facing boys and men of color,” Gray said.

Gray also spoke about investing in business opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Through the California Reinvestment Grant Program CalCRG, for example, the state has been directly funding community-based organizations across California to expand job and re-entry programs for Black and other men of color who were impacted by the “War on Drugs.”

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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