Oakland Technical High School was one of a dozen campuses forced to close for the day on Friday due to a sickout by more than 500 of the Oakland Unified School District's teachers. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Oakland Unified School District officials are negotiating with students who walked out or stayed home Tuesday due to safety concerns around COVID-19 and feel they are meeting students’ demands, a district spokesman said.

About 1,200 students signed a petition threatening to stay out of school Tuesday and until they get what they need to be safe, according to the petition. On Friday, they are planning to strike outside the school district’s main office if their demands are not met by then.

The students said in their petition that the district must go back to distance learning until the number of COVID-19 cases goes down again. To ensure a safe learning space, the students also want KN95/N95 masks and weekly polymerase chain reaction, also known as PCR, testing. PCR testing is not a rapid COVID-19 test.

“We feel we have very robustly addressed their concerns,” district spokesman John Sasaki said of the students demands.

Students previously demanded more outdoor spaces where they can eat safely when it rains.

Sasaki said district leaders have provided 200,000 masks in recent days. Work on the outdoor eating spaces is progressing and the district testing is as robust as any in the state. About 130,000 tests were performed by the district this past fall. Most of the testing is not PCR testing though.

Sasaki did not know how many students did not come to school Tuesday because of the boycott. The records were not immediately available.

Some students could not go to school if they wanted to because of a teacher “sickout.” Enough teachers stayed home Tuesday to force the district to close Bridges Academy, an elementary school, Acorn Woodland Elementary School, and United for Success Academy, a middle school.

It’s the third “sickout” by teachers at a variety of OUSD schools. The teachers, like the students, fear for their safety because of COVID-19.

Schools will not close because students walked out, Sasaki said.

The district believes school is the safest place for students who want to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Many people are vaccinated, masks must be worn, and the district has taken steps to create a safe environment through ventilation and air purification.

The district continues to follow all federal, state, and local public health guidance around the coronavirus, Sasaki said.

Students who walked out or stayed home Tuesday will be considered absent. But Sasaki said the district is “not looking to punish anybody.”

Oakland Unified School District faces a loss of state funding because of the students’ lack of attendance since funding is based on attendance.

Students organizing the boycott did not respond to a request for comment early Tuesday afternoon.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.