By Zack Haber
The Oakland Unified School District is no longer releasing data this school year to notify students, staff, parents and the public of positive COVID cases in schools.
“The district is responding to all positive cases that we are made aware of,” OUSD spokesman John Sasaki wrote in an email to the Post News Group. “However, in accordance with state and county guidelines, we are no longer aggregating and cleansing data in the same manner as last year.”
Over the past school year, OUSD, along with neighboring school districts, released regularly updated dashboards that informed the public of positive COVID cases both districtwide and in schools. individual. While the OUSD has retired its COVID dashboard, the Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryvilleand San Leandro Unified School Districts continue to update theirs.
In an email, Berkeley Unified School District spokeswoman Trish McDermott wrote that her district continues to “share our case count information with our community on our dashboard to inform their own choices regarding masking and testing”.
Spokesperson Keziah Moss wrote that the San Leandro School District has “continued to operate seamlessly with our staff and families.” Moss called the publicly available COVID data “useful for everyone as we monitor health and wellness in our schools.”
In an interview with the Post News Group, OUSD parent Innosanto Nagara expressed frustration over the removal of the dashboard and also questioned the adequacy of the COVID testing and data collection process. ‘OUSD.
“Without the dashboard, I have no idea how many students have COVID,” Nagara said. “But it’s not just the dashboard that’s gone. Basically, the whole monitoring, testing and reporting system is also gone.
According to Nagara, last school year her son was tested for COVID twice a week at the school he attends, Melrose Leadership Academy, but that practice ended.
“Before the start of this school year, our school sent an email saying you could come and take a test,” Nagara said. “And that’s all I heard about the tests.”
According to Sasaki, OUSD’s decision to remove its dashboard is “in alignment with” a resolution the school board passed on June 22. The resolution no longer requires the district to release its COVID data and ended bi-weekly testing at all schools. Although the district is still required to distribute take-home tests to students and house staffed testing centers, there is no requirement for the number of tests that must be distributed or the number of centers that must stay open. Sasaki says rapid tests are available for any symptomatic or exposed students. This month, OUSD has two to four test centers for PCR testing open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., roughly the same hours schools are open.
Board Director Mike Hutchinson, who introduced the resolution, told this reporter in a message that the intent of the resolution was to “reset the district’s response to COVID this year, so we’re in alignment.” with the state and the CDC and always have the flexibility to change if needed.”
“Fortunately, we don’t need the same level of testing or reporting as last year,” Hutchinson wrote. “It is good news that we have been able to scale back and modify our response to COVID.”
All elected trustees currently serving on the school board voted to approve Hutchinson’s resolution. Director Kyra Mungia, who was appointed to the board, had not yet taken office at the time of the vote.
In an email to this reporter, board director Sam Davis wrote that if he had been “an advocate for greater availability [COVID] data” during the past school year, he “saw no reason to put off” Hutchinson’s resolution for this year. Davis called collecting and reporting COVID data a “big lift” and wrote that “it doesn’t feel like schools should be burdened with doing this work when it’s not done for one. places where people congregate in large numbers, usually unmasked, such as bars, concerts and restaurants, in a way that probably contributes much more to community transmission than schools.
Board trustees Aimee Eng, Clifford Thompson and VanCedric Williams did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story. Director Gary Yee did not respond when asked why he voted to approve Hutchinson’s resolution, but wrote in an email that he believed Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell was true to her intent.
During public comments from a school board meeting on August 24, Dorothy Graham criticized OUSD for no longer publishing COVID data.
“How are families supposed to understand the spread of COVID in our schools and the risk to our students without data? ” she asked.
Graham is a former director of the Alameda Health Consortium and has over 40 years of experience in public health. She is also a high-risk COVID individual with a grandson who attends an OUSD school. In an interview, Graham said she felt OUSD was shifting its response from collective responsibility to individual responsibility. Like other districts in the region and nation, masks are now optional at OUSD. Grahams is critical of the district’s choice to no longer release COVID data when ending required masking could put more people at risk and feels it’s especially important now that people have access to COVID data so they can do informed choices in risk assessment.
“The data dashboard provided imperfect but vital information to understand where things stood,” Graham said. “You could see the spikes in the cases and know how urgent it was to test.”
As the OUSD school year began in early August, the CDC was saying COVID transmission was high across the Bay Area. It’s unclear how widespread COVID is now and if it poses less of a risk this school year. Vaccinations protect many people against the worst symptoms of COVID, but their potency decreases over time and more than 25% of college students and 45% of black college students are unvaccinated.
It is also unclear how widespread COVID is currently in Alameda County. Since last spring, private and public health institutes and departments have been saying that COVID case rates have likely become increasingly underestimated as home COVID testing is more available while government testing is less available. The increased ability to test independently has caused people to report their cases to health services less frequently. That of the county data dashboards currently show that the rates of reported COVID cases over the past four months have fallen sharply. They also show that COVID-related hospitalizations and hospitalization rates have increased sharply over the past six months or so. The county is currently administering testing at about the same rate as it did at the start of the pandemic.
Graham thinks few people talk about the OUSD-related COVID issues.
“I was the only person to mention the word COVID at the board meeting,” she said. “The voices you would expect to speak on this are not.”
Teachers, students, and the Oakland Education Association had been speaking out on COVID-related safety issues for the past two school years. Last January, teachers at OUSD protestedas did students, in independent non-union sickness and/or walkout actions calling for better COVID safety measures. AEO pressed the district and negotiated on security issuesand finally reached a security agreement this included the free availability of high-quality masks in all schools. This year, however, there have been no COVID protests. None of four ballots OAS released the word COVID in them this year, and its website no longer has a navigable page for COVID resources.
In an emailed statement to this reporter, OAS President Keith Brown wrote that “we cannot let our guard down against COVID.” Brown pointed out that the agreements made with the district last year have continued this year. These include providing classrooms with quality air filtration, providing substitute teachers in classrooms, and ensuring that “OUSD maintains a stock of high-quality masks and rapid tests”.
According to Brown, the OAS has also encouraged greater transparency when it comes to COVID data this year.
“Our security agreement sets the minimum, and we will continue to encourage OUSD to go beyond that,” Brown wrote, “including transparently reporting known cases.”
In the meantime, OUSD parent Innosanto Nagara and grandparent Dorothy Graham remain unhappy with the district’s COVID procedures and want more transparency.
“I feel like we sent kids out this year like COVID was over by district concerns,” Nagara said.
“I think they removed the dashboard very prematurely.” said Graham. “Why is it controversial? Publishing the data should only be common sense.