I am excited for my new role as Oakland School Board Director for District 1, and will be sworn in on January 4th. But this is a sobering time to be taking office—like so many, I am mourning friends I have lost this year, and am grateful for essential workers, including all those who have supported the transition to distance learning, which would have been unimaginable a year ago.
The pandemic has been very hard on students—my own son is struggling with distance learning, and many families are stretched incredibly thin supporting their children while also handling jobs, economic stress, and the health risks, illness or even loss of family members. Everyone wants to reopen schools as soon as it is safe to do so, but people differ on what is safe depending on their experience and perspective.
I recommend watching this presentation from UCSF for a balanced approach that includes both the science of why children are less likely to spread COVID-19, as well as the need to move towards reopening in a unifying way together with families, teachers and school staff.
I am concerned about comments on social media naming the teachers' union, OEA, as standing in the way of reopening, rather than recognizing teachers as major participants in the reopening process and trying to address their concerns.
There are many steps we can advocate for that will help schools reopen faster, such as:
Prioritizing education workers to receive the vaccine across California. Oakland Councilmember Nikki Bas has joined others statewide in calling for this to happen.
More guidance and support from the state for reopening schools - our Superintendent signed a letter to the governor in November asking for a stronger statewide system that would reduce the disparities we have seen, which allow rural and private schools to open more nimbly than urban districts
Working towards consensus on the steps needed for successful opening, which are being tracked on OUSD’s Readiness to Return dashboard
- And of course, if more people follow the public health orders, the current spike in infections and deaths will subside more quickly
All of our school and district employees have worked incredibly hard this year to make the transition to distance learning, and will be crucial to a successful reopening, so their voices are important in this process.
As the OUSD family survey showed, communities of color that have been harder hit by the virus in Oakland are also more reluctant to return to schools. When New York City reopened its elementary schools recently, there were racial disparities in which families signed up to return.
These are concerns that the District needs to address as we work towards reopening schools as soon as we safely can.
You can read the District's plan to reopen schools once Alameda County is back in the orange tier here. Alameda County is currently in the purple tier, so it will take some time for this to happen—unfortunately, no date can be confirmed until the current surge in infections has substantially reduced. OUSD is also in negotiations with OEA and other labor partners over the impact of this plan to teachers and school staff.
I welcome your responses and feedback to the district’s plan and look forward to working with the community to reopen schools equitably. I am also working with district staff to organize a forum on next steps towards the end of January, and will send out more information when I have it.
Enrolling in OUSD
The deadline for priority enrollment for OUSD for next school year (2021-22) is February 5th. You can find out more about the process on the OUSD website, including a list of school websites and virtual tours.
Sankofa United has a great video showcasing their families and staff which you can view by clicking here.
Stay Safe and Take Care
In the stress of these unprecedented times, my heart goes out to everyone who is suffering the effects of the pandemic, whether it is to their physical or mental health. Truly this is a holiday season like no other, yet it is a time also to reflect on our gratitude for every breath we take and every person in our lives.
Please follow the safety guidelines from the county and take care of yourselves and your loved ones as we hope for a healthier and more just 2021!
School Board Director-Elect, District 1
Oakland Unified School District