Oakland schools announce ‘wellness day’ off on Friday, extend COVID leave for staff


The Oakland Unified School District has extended COVID-19 leave for thousands of employees and announced a “wellness day” off for teachers on Friday ahead of another planned “sickout” by some teachers and students, who are demanding better COVID safety measures.

OUSD announced it reached an agreement with the Oakland Education Association last week to extend COVID leave, which affords supplemental sick days for staff related to COVID, through the end of the year, according to a Wednesday news release. The OEA represents nearly 3,000 teachers, counselors, psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists, early childhood educators, adult education teachers, nurses and substitutes.

The district also announced a “wellness day” on Friday that will serve as a non-work day for teachers. The day was scheduled previously as a day off for students and a day for “professional development” for district staff members. The district said it’s working with other labor partners on similar agreements and will continue negotiations this week.

The new measures come as students at various school districts, including in New York City and Southern California, staged walkouts this week in protest of what they say are unsafe conditions at their schools. Districts are also grappling with a spike in teacher absences fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant that has left some classrooms half-empty amid an existing nationwide shortage. Palo Alto Unified School District officials this past weekend sent out a plea for community volunteers at the schools after droves of staff members called out sick, prompting hundreds of parents to step in and help.

Employees from Frick United Academy of Language, Montera Middle School, Madison Park Academy Upper 6-12, Skyline High School, Claremont Middle School and Roosevelt Middle School are planning to call out sick Thursday in solidarity with students who have threatened to boycott classes starting Tuesday unless their demands are met, according to a petition. The students have asked the district to move in-person learning to online instruction and provide PCR and rapid testing twice a week, KN95 and N95 masks for every student in all schools and more outdoor spaces where the students can eat, according to a petition.

Students attending MetWest High School, Oakland Technical High School, Oakland High School, Skyline High School, Life Academy Oakland and Fremont High School will also be “sicking out” on Thursday.

MetWest High School 10th graders Ayleen Serrano, Ximena Santa and Benjamin Rendon, who created the petition, say students still haven’t received masks from the district and hope the planned boycott will push district officials to make good on their promises. They added that the “sickout” is to “build momentum” and to show the district that they will go through with the boycott next week.

“Our demands aren’t really us demanding anything, it’s us telling the district to give us what they say they’ve been giving us because we haven’t received it,” Serrano said. “It’s reminding them that we actually do know if we’re receiving it or not.”

The students say they were asked to call off the “sickout” on Thursday after the district received 10,000 masks as a donation this week. OUSD officials said they will be distributing the masks to all high school students in time for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

The district said that 200,000 KN95 masks were ordered for students last week and KN95 and N95 masks were distributed to school sites so every employee had at least three N95 masks and two KN95 masks, according to a news release. Another 50,000 KN95 masks will be delivered to sites this week, officials said.

“Unauthorized sickouts, especially on short notice, create unnecessary challenges for families who still need to work and may not have easy access to child care,” district communications director John Sasaki said in a news release. “For older, more independent students, it can present additional challenges because they may not stay home, and instead mix with others outside their normal circle.”

Sasaki previously said that “supply line issues” have delayed the delivery of supplies, including tables and shade structures, for covered eating spaces at the schools. Sasaki also said that testing is available for students through ten hubs across the district, weekly pooled testing at elementary schools and bi-weekly testing for secondary schools. The district is offering vaccine pop-ups this month at multiple locations.

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