District Council 57

Oakland Paraeducators Finally Get Recognized for the Special Jobs They Do

Ever since AFSCME has represented paraeducators in the Oakland Unified School District, they have always played an important role in educating students with special needs—from providing instruction in the classroom to carrying out custodial care to performing specialized medical procedures.

For many years, however, the misconception was that the paraeducators were only at the schools to change diapers, push wheelchairs and load students on buses.

Thanks to years of putting pressure on the School District, it’s finally a new day for our members who take care of Oakland Unified’s most fragile students.

AFSCME Local 257 recently entered into an agreement with the School District to stop contracting out nurses for special needs students and allow paraeducators to be recognized for the specialized medical procedures they’ve always been required to perform.

Oakland Unified previously spent $70,000 to $80,000 annually per nurse to have on-call workers from outside the District for each special needs classroom. The nurses were paid to take care of everything from handling feeding tubes and catheters to EpiPens and Diastats. Paraeducators have always been trained to perform those services, in part, but they were never compensated.

Now, the paraeducators will get trained in all of the specialized medical procedures so that there is no need to spend more money on hiring outside workers. Our members will also receive extra compensation for being certified in those medical procedures. In turn, the School District will now be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

“I knew that our vision was eventually going to come to pass,” said AFSCME Local 257 member Melisha Linzie, the lead paraeducator and trainer for the new partnership who has worked for Oakland Unified for 25 years. “This shows that the District finally respects us as full employees. Now, we can get back to serving the students like we used to do and the students can continue getting the services that they’re entitled to.”

Over the summer and through the beginning of the school year, Oakland Unified’s nursing services department and their dedicated RN staff have worked diligently to get our members who are paraeducators certified. We represent nearly 290 paraeducators throughout the District, and about 50 of them have already been trained. The District and AFSCME are now in the process of recruiting and training more paraeducators to get certified in performing specialized medical procedures.

AFSCME Local 257 member Kim Hewitt-Stevens was one of the paraeducators who got certified under the new partnership.
Now that she is certified, she not only feels more dedicated to the students in her classroom but she also gets to do something she has always wanted to do.

“I always wanted to be a nurse, but I just never took that route because it was kind of expensive to get the training when I was going through school,” said Hewitt-Stevens, who has been a paraeducator for more than 20 years. “When they started the specialized medical procedure program, I jumped on it because my mother was a nurse and my grandmother was an anesthesiologist, and I’ve always wanted to be in that field helping kids.”

AFSCME Council 57 Business Agent Jo Bates said the partnership is an important step forward for the School District because the paraeducators are a group of workers who love their jobs, and they take great pride in helping the children they serve.

“Now that they’re receiving full compensation for the jobs that they do, the District no longer has to worry about an outsider providing those services and having no accountability,” Bates said. “This is a district-provided service—as it should be—with workers dedicated to their jobs, the children and the community.”

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