Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell talked with kindergarten students at Lockwood STEAM Academy on the first day of school. Face masks are mandatory, and on Aug. 11 Gov. Newsom announced all school staff must be vaccinated or tested.
OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell talks with kindergarten students at Lockwood STEAM Academy on the first day of school. Credit: Kathryn Styer Martínez

Surrounded by Oakland leaders at Carl B. Munck Elementary School, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday morning that all California teachers and school staff must either be vaccinated or tested once a week for COVID-19.

The new requirements are the first of their kind in the nation. They go a step further than the state of Hawaii, which issued a vaccine mandate for all public school teachers, while Newsom’s directive applies to all school workers at public, private and parochial schools. He set a deadline of Oct. 15 for schools to comply. 

“We think this is the right thing to do and a sustainable way to keep our schools open and address the number one anxiety that parents like I have: knowing the schools are doing everything in their power to keep our kids safe, to keep our kids healthy,” Newsom said. 

Oakland Unified School District has set an earlier start date for its testing program. In a letter sent Tuesday evening to parents and the OUSD community, Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and Chief Talent Officer Tara Gard wrote that “in light of the current high transmission rates in Alameda County” due to the highly-contagious delta variant, weekly testing for unvaccinated district staff, contractors and volunteers will begin Sept. 7. 

“That decision was made to ensure we are doing our part to keep our schools as well as the broader community safe,” Johnson-Trammell said at Wednesday’s press conference. “We felt this was an important step in that direction.” 

OUSD staff have until Aug. 27 to upload their proof of vaccination, including workers who previously self-certified, district officials said. Of the 3,700-plus staff members who have reported their vaccination status, 92% are already vaccinated, the letter said. OUSD has more than 5,000 employees serving more than 35,000 students at 80 schools. 

In addition, OUSD will require everyone on campuses to wear masks outdoors beginning Aug. 16. Masks have been required indoors since the start of school Monday. 

Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown said the union supports the new safety measures and joined Newsom, Mayor Libby Schaaf and Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s call on Wednesday for more residents to get vaccinated. 

“All summer, Oakland educators have worked preparing for this moment, the first week of school, and we worked collaboratively with classified staff and administrators,” Brown said. “Vaccines work and they keep our students and communities safe.” 

Currently, OUSD has 10 testing locations offering both rapid antigen and PCR tests. Asked if the district plans to expand its testing program, School Board President Shanthi Gonzales said they will learn more during the superintendent’s report at tonight’s board meeting. “I don’t know if we will be adding additional sites, but we are looking at ways to expand test capacity, for example with take-home testing kits,” she said. 

The district is also planning to increase hours of operation at the existing testing sites, the superintendent said in her letter. 

The state’s school workers join a growing list of public and private employees — including state workers — under a vaccine or frequent testing mandate. Unlike the city and county of San Francisco, there is no mandate yet for city of Oakland staff. The Oakland Fire Department as of late July reported that 81% of firefighters are vaccinated. According to Oakland Police Department Spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson, OPD is not tracking whether officers are inoculated. 

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.