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OUSD Teachers, Parents, Ask for Weekly COVID-19 Testing

In an effort to ensure safety as the Delta variant has caused a surge in COVID-19 cases both nationally and locally, Oakland parents and teachers are asking the Oakland Unified School District to provide weekly COVID-19 tests to all students and staff.

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Oakland Unified School District teachers, parents, and students hold signs at a protest outside of School Board President Shanthi Gonzalez's home on August 6. They demanded expanded COVID-19 related safety measures, including weekly testing at all school sites for all staff and students. Photo by Zack Haber.

In an effort to ensure safety as the Delta variant has caused a surge in COVID-19 cases both nationally and locally, Oakland parents and teachers are asking the Oakland Unified School District to provide weekly COVID-19 tests to all students and staff.

“I think that anyone who is going to be spending any extended period of time in a school site should be tested,” said Megan Bumpus, a fifth-grade teacher at Reach Academy, and a parent to two students at another OUSD elementary school.

Last week, two students in her class tested positive for COVID-19. Since these students sit next to each other in her classroom, she suspects the transmission happened at school. On August 16, in reaction to the positive cases, nursing staff came to her school to give all students in her class COVID tests. But Bumpus feels these tests should have happened earlier.

“If everybody had got tested right before the first day of school, I think we’d all be in a much better place,” she said.

Other OUSD community members agree with Bumpus and think testing should be expanded.

OUSD teacher and parent Olivia Udovic started a petition that asks for weekly COVID-19 testing at all district schools. It currently has over 1,500 signatures.

On the evening of August 6, the last weekday before the start of the OUSD school year, a crowd of about 20 people made up almost entirely of OUSD teachers, students, and staff protested outside of Board President Shanthi Gonzales’s home to demand expanded COVID-19 safety measures. Weekly COVID-19 testing at every school site was a key demand.

“In order to keep our families safe and let folks know what precautions they need to take, we need to know if there are positive cases,” said OUSD parent Mona Trevino at the protest. “If they make it impossible for us to get that information, we could have a lot of sick kids and parents on our hands.

The Oakland Post also received six e-mails forwarded to us from parents and/or OUSD teachers who had written to the school board asking for expanded COVID safety measures, including demands for weekly testing. Several pointed out that the Los Angeles Unified School District is both providing testing and requiring all school staff and students who participate in in-person schooling to be tested on a weekly basis for the virus.

When asked about COVID testing in Oakland schools, Gonzales wrote in an e-mail to The Oakland Post, “We are following guidance from the State Department of Public Health. As those guidelines change, we will continue to be responsive.” She also pointed out that OUSD has upgraded their ventilation systems, enforces masking requirements, and has upgraded contact tracing measures.

LAUSD tested 81% of staff and students just before their school year started. Of those tested, .8% of them, over 3,600 people, tested positive for COVID-19. Unlike LAUSD, OUSD is not proactively testing asymptomatic people unless they knowingly come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. But, when staff and students do get tested, OUSD is tracking positive cases in the district and releasing that data on a weekly basis.

According to data released on Monday morning, 58 students and 10 OUSD staff members tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of school, which started August 9. The data lists Reach Academy as having four positive COVID cases, but Bumpus reports that by the end of the school day on Monday, two additional students tested positive. 

The site with the highest number of positive cases, according to OUSD’s data, is Oakland High School, where 16 people tested positive and one classroom of students are not currently reporting to school, as the district asked them to go into a full at-home quarantine. A similar quarantine period is occurring with a classroom of students at Montclair Elementary School, where five people tested positive for the virus.

In reaction to the initial positive cases at Oakland High School, OUSD greatly expanded testing on the site, which led to more cases being discovered. Oakland High School music teacher David Byrd compared the situation at his school to a nuclear disaster, and suggested if testing were expanded, another school could also be revealed to be in such a dire situation.

“Oakland High School is the Chernobyl of the COVID outbreak in OUSD,” he wrote on Facebook on Monday. “But, if every other school were testing like us, another site would be the Fukushima.”

OUSD Director of Communications John Sasaki said that the district is already making COVID-19 tests available to students and staff.

“At-home rapid antigen tests will be available for pick-up at each school site for those who develop symptoms during the day, or if they have another reason to get tested, such as if they have been exposed or if they are unvaccinated,” Sasaki wrote in an email to The Oakland Post. Onsite testing is also available in 10 of the district’s 118 schools.

District 5 School Board Director Mike Hutchinson wrote a resolution that, if passed, would direct Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell to ensure that COVID-19 tests be offered on a weekly basis to all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. 

Language from the resolution points out that “federal and state funds have been provided to help school districts cover the cost of COVID testing.” Unlike the current policy in Los Angeles public schools, Hutchinson’s resolution would not require students to take weekly COVID tests. 

It would only offer the tests and parents would have the option of opting their students out, unless public health guidelines change to recommend all students be required to be tested weekly, which is currently not the case on the county, state or national level.

Hutchinson introduced the resolution during the August 11 school board meeting, but board president Gonzales did not put it on the agenda, so the board did not vote on it.

In an e-mail written August 6 that responded to a concerned OUSD parent and teacher, District 1 School Board Director Sam Davis claimed he believed it was important for the district to take “a more proactive stance on testing.”

“There are already at-home test kits available at every school,” he wrote, “but I think we need to go a step further and have staff provide tests to students at every school site on a regular basis, so that we can catch cases before they turn into outbreaks.”

In an e-mail to The Oakland Post, Davis clarified that he believed “we only need widespread testing of students during periods of high incidence such as what we are experiencing now.”

The next OUSD school board meeting is August 25. Unless an emergency meeting is announced, that would be the next time Hutchinson’s resolution requiring COVID-19 testing be offered on a weekly basis could be voted on. 

In the meantime, Bumpus is still worried about COVID-19 spreading in OUSD schools through people having COVID-19 while not being aware that they are carrying the virus.

“Having to focus on this right now is awful. I can barely focus on lesson planning,” said Bumpus. “When it comes to testing, it doesn’t feel right not to air on the side of caution.”

 

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.

Bay Area

Sept. 11, 2001, 20 years later: ‘Remembrance’ held aboard the USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

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U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment: Sgt. Tristan Garivay, Sgt. Michael Her, Cpl. Adrian Chavez and Cpl. Quentavious Leeks. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, Commanding Officer, 23rd Marine Regiment. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

The ceremony recognized the impact and consequences of the series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed on 2001 by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Queda against targets in New York City and Wash., D.C. Nearly 3,000 people died that day and 6,000 were injured.  This was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in U.S. history. 

The ceremony aboard the USS Hornet began with the presentation of the colors by the U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment. (Pictured above.)

Leon Watkins, co-founder of The Walking Ghosts of Black History, was the Master of Ceremonies. He spoke about the extensive death and destruction which triggered the enormous U.S. effort to combat terrorism.

Daniel Costin, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spoke of the lasting impact of 9/11 terrorists attack on first responders. He recounted incidents where first responders rushed into the scenes of the attacks, many at the sacrifice of their own lives. More than 400 police officers and firefighters were killed that day: 343 members of the New York City Fire Department and 71 members of their law enforcement agencies.

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, commanding officer of the 23rd Marine Regiment, spoke about the recovery efforts at the Pentagon following the terrorists’ attack where 125 people perished. He reflected on the actions of three first responders who recovered the U.S. Marine Corps flag from the commandant of the Marine Corps’ office at the Pentagon. This flag was still standing after the attack. It was a symbol of America’s resolve.

At the end of the formal presentations, the Marine Corps Wreath Bearers went to the fantail of the Hornet. After the playing of ‘Taps,’ they tossed a wreath into the San Francisco Bay to give final honors.

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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Community

Many in Black Communities are Choosing Vaccination 

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists. 

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Vaccination/Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

The trail of illness and death left amid the spread of COVID-19 in Black and African American communities should come as no surprise.

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists.

COVID-19 vaccinations offer us an opportunity to better balance the scale.

Unfortunately, even with widely available testing, highly effective vaccines, and extraordinary efforts by health departments to educate and encourage people of color to get vaccinated, many Black Californians remain skeptical.

We can only hope that the FDA’s full regulatory approval of the Pfizer vaccine on August 23 for those 16 and up convinces more to get the vaccine.  It’s worth noting that emergency-use authorization also remains in place for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, as well as Pfizer’s for 12- to 15-year-olds – and that all of these vaccines are safe and effective in protecting against COVID-19 and its highly contagious variants.

Eddie Fairchild and Steph Sanders were skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccine but came to understand why vaccination benefits our entire community.

Fairchild, a Sacramento insurance agent, said he knew of research that found Black and white people are often treated differently for the same health conditions leading to poorer health outcomes.

“I was hesitant,” he said. “I was going to wait and see how it panned out with everyone else.

But when a Black friend in the health care field told him he’d opted to get vaccinated, Fairchild asked him why.

“He said, ‘Risk-reward, and the risk is death.’ At that point I didn’t have to ask him what the reward was.”

With a finance degree and a belief that numbers don’t lie, Fairchild looked at the data. He learned that until 2020 the average number of Americans who died each year was about 2.6 million, but in 2020 that figure was 3.4 million. There was only one possible explanation for the death rate surge, he said.

“COVID is absolutely real,” he said, adding that three of his cousins died from the virus. “Taking all that into consideration, I decided that it’s risky to engage in the world and not be vaccinated. It made sense for me to get it.”

Racial gaps in vaccination have thankfully narrowed in recent weeks. But as of September 1, while Black people account for 6% of the state’s population, they account for 6.6% of COVID-19 deaths, which is 11% higher than the statewide rate, according to state department of public health data. Only about 55% of Black people in California have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Reasons for the discrepancies run the gamut, from conspiracy theories like Black people are getting a less effective vaccine than whites or that the vaccine will eventually be deadly, to challenges in health care access. 

Mostly, it’s based on a lack of trust in medical and scientific institutions, which have a long history of racism and mistreating Black people.

So even when it comes to good things like vaccines, which are scientifically proven to be good for the community, it always comes back to trust.

Sanders, a Vallejo school principal, was hesitant because of the Tuskegee syphilis studies in which Black men who had the disease were intentionally not treated with penicillin. And he was dubious that an effective vaccine could be developed so quickly. 

In fact, the science and technology enabling development of the COVID-19 vaccines was in development for a more than decade before the virus emerged in 2020. The FDA authorized three vaccines for emergency use after they underwent a rigorous process and were proven through trials to be safe and effective at preventing severe COVID-19, hospitalization, and death.

He decided to get vaccinated when his school board decided last spring to bring students back into classrooms.

Today, he’s a fervent vaccine advocate. He holds “lunch and learn” forums for educators, encouraging vaccination.

“I’m a leader and people are relying on my knowledge,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t make this about you, but about the people you love and care about. It’s about protecting them.’”

There is still a long way to go before Blacks achieve true health equity, but vaccination against a virus that is taking a terrible toll on our communities is a critical step in the right direction.

 

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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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