COVID Safety Panel/Q&A
Thanks to student board directors Samantha Pal and Natalie Gallegos for co-hosting a COVID Safety Panel/Q&A that I organized on August 26 with speakers Dr. Nicholas Moss, Health Officer for Alameda County, Chaz Garcia, 2nd Vice President of OEA, and school district staff.
The student directors added several great ideas to my list of questions, and we covered many topics such as quarantines, testing, ventilation, and more.
After the panel, district staff took questions from the public, to clarify the COVID safety protocols and how they are working to improve their implementation.
You can watch a recording of the event here.
Proposed Vaccine Requirement for Students Aged 12+
The availability of the COVID vaccine for adolescents makes it so much safer for them to have all the tremendous benefits of in-person classes. County statistics show that 57% of Oaklanders aged 12-17 have both their COVID shots, while 73% have at least one.
That’s much higher than in many other parts of the country, but for safety, it should be higher still. With full vaccination, there would be very few COVID cases among adolescents, but instead we saw 40% of the cases in OUSD in August at our middle and high schools
Infection rates are much, much lower for vaccinated people (in Alameda County, less than a third of the rate for unvaccinated individuals during the Delta surge), and when breakthrough infections do occur after vaccination, almost none of them lead to hospitalization.
The delta variant is much more contagious, and a CDC study found that hospitalization rates due to delta are ten times higher among unvaccinated adolescents than vaccinated. If we don’t act to vaccinate students, we will see the worst health impacts in communities with lower vaccination rates.
Yet in recent days, free vaccine clinics at our high schools have only seen a handful of students come in for their shots. Those who do, often say they are taking the step to keep older family members safe from infection. Each person who gets the shot is also protecting the other people in their lives.
That’s why I am introducing a resolution, cosponsored by Directors Yee and Thompson, to require vaccination for students aged 12 and over. My purpose is to set a goal of 100% vaccination and engage the community in dialogue on how to increase our rates as quickly as possible.
There are many aspects to such a requirement that need to be worked out: the timeline, the racial equity impact, who would get an exemption and how, and how to motivate so we can reach 100%.
I am open to suggestions and will be meeting with student leaders from the All City Council on these questions. I will also be organizing a community forum with students, families, teachers, administrators and staff to share ideas—details to come in my next email.
This resolution is not the end of the discussion but the beginning. It would direct the Superintendent and her staff to develop an implementation plan for the requirement that would come back to the Board in October.
I recognize there are many reasons for reluctance to vaccinate, but as the pandemic continues its extreme disruption of our lives, we should listen to public health experts who are urging teens to get the shot.
School staff should work with student leadership groups, and health-related academies at our high schools, to organize a vaccination campaign that educates students and families about the benefits and counteracts the myths that are rampant on social media.
As we see vaccine mandates take effect at UC and CSU, and many cities are requiring them for certain businesses and events, we need to ask why our high schools and middle schools should be different. Let’s work together to make our schools as safe as possible, as quickly as we can.
Postponing School Closures and Mergers
My resolution, co-authored with Director Eng, to postpone any vote on further school mergers and closures until next year, will be on the agenda on Sept. 22.
Right now, all of our efforts need to be on safety, rebuilding relationships between teachers, staff, students and families, and addressing chronic absence due to the pandemic.
The controversy and disruption that would be created by a decision on school closures or mergers would be a huge distraction from this work. It’s also not clear if there is capacity to support school communities through the transitions later this year if such mergers or closures were to pass.
Even though OUSD enrollment continues to decline due to the pandemic, we need to postpone these very difficult decisions until next year, while we focus on the reopening of in-person classes during the continuing pandemic.
Kits Cubed Science Fair
On a very positive note, on Saturday Oakland Tech valedictorian Ahmed Muhammed organized a giveaway of 1,000 science kits in front of the high school, created by his new company Kits Cubed, in partnership with Chabot Space and Science Center, California Life Sciences, and Oakland Roots.
It was so heartwarming to see hundreds of young students being wowed by science experiments at different booths. It was also great to meet Ahmed and catch up with former student board director and current Cal freshman Jessica Ramos, who was handing out kits at one of the tables.
It was one of those events that makes you so proud to live in Oakland, and I deeply appreciate all of Ahmed’s leadership and hard work to make it happen.