Student protest leads to sparse attendance
by Jessica Acetun Toc, Kaitlyn Chen, Anthony Huynh, Jenny Nguyen, Ling Yi Qiu & Pei Wen Xiao
Oakland High classrooms were eerily quiet during the student sickout on Friday, Feb. 8, when high-schoolers from across the district skipped school to protest in support of teachers’ negotiations with the Oakland Unified School District.
More than half of students at Oakland High were absent on the day of the sick-out, according to Jessica Quach, the attendance clerk. Many of the absent students attended a protest at Oakland Technical High School, marching down to school district offices. This is similar to an unsanctioned teacher walkout that occurred on Jan. 18.
“I think it’s great,” said Alyssa Berkins, an English teacher for Oakland High, who had eight of 32 enrolled students present in her Per. 6 Writing class. “I like that students are engaging in their community and utilizing their powers.”
Students from other school districts have participated in similar non-attendance protests. In February 2016, Detroit students held a sick-out to call attention to problems in their district.
Students from Oakland High, Skyline, Oakland Tech, McClymonds, Madison Park, MetWest and others attended Friday’s sick-out, which was organized by students from several different high schools in Oakland.
“I’m happy that students have taken a stand in our education,” said Yota Omo-sowho, an O-High senior who serves as a Student Director for the OUSD Board of Education. She participated in the walkout “to stand in solidarity with my teachers and show support for them.”
Students noted that they might miss much more school if teachers strike. In a vote earlier this month, Oakland teachers authorized their union leaders to call a strike, which could begin after Feb. 15.
“I decided to go on the walkout because I love my teachers,” said junior Jenie Galicia. “I really don’t want them to go on strike because 1) they won’t be paid and 2) students won’t have much to do when their teachers are not working. I also wanted to represent Oakland High School, especially since I’m a class officer. Even though attending the sickout means missing out on work, not being present today will show my teachers that came to work that I care for them.”
According to teachers, students’ participation in the sick-out would not affect their eligibility for the Oakland Promise scholarship, which has attendance requirements. Students who attended school found quiet classrooms and unusual lessons, as teachers revised plans to avoid leaving absent students behind. One class studied the labor negotiations, then created memes and posted them to an Instagram account.
Some had projects they needed to finish. “I want to work on my clay project because it’s fun,” said Chuyi Fang, a VAAMP junior, explaining why she attended school on the day of the sick-out.
Meanwhile, with the school’s entire Journalism class out, the six AP English Language students present stepped in to cover the day’s news.