February is Black History Month, and every month is a good opportunity to learn from and reflect on the African-American experience in Oakland. I was moved by this Oaklandside article on some amazing Black history projects in OUSD. I also want to wish a happy Lunar New Year to those who celebrate it.
Planning for In-Person Instruction
I know that many families and teachers are struggling with the isolation and mental stress of distance learning, and many have lost loved ones or friends to the pandemic as California reached the terrible milestone of being the state with the most pandemic deaths in the nation. I urge everyone to keep using masks, to practice social distancing, and to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, in order to continue driving down the infection rates as quickly as possible.
Our district continues to work hard on the path back to in-person instruction, but to be honest progress has been slow and frustrating this week.
The good news is that infection rates have dropped substantially, currently at 18 per 100,000 in Alameda County, from their dangerous peaks in January. Also, Alameda County is now vaccinating educators, but there have been mixed messages with some easily getting their first shot while others have been told that for now only those who are already working in-person are eligible.
The Oakland Coliseum mass vaccination site will open tomorrow, and is expected to serve up to 6,000 people per day. Those who qualify for Phase 1B, including all educators, can make appointments at http://myturn.ca.gov.
I urge the county to change its priority system, or move quickly through the priority levels, in order to immediately vaccinate those who work with elementary and special education students in our public schools.
The state of California has also sent mixed messages on reopening. Just before New Year's, the Governor announced that schools would be allowed to reopen in the deep purple tier if they put other safety standards in place. Recommendations issued in mid-January clarified that the COVID testing bar would be set very high: schools can reopen once a county's rate is below 25 per 100,000 only if they test all in-person students and staff weekly.
For OUSD, the financial and staffing costs of testing all in-person students weekly would be impossible with our existing resources, which is why our plan continues to be reopening for hybrid instruction once Alameda County reaches the orange tier.
Chiefly because of the testing recommendations, it is very challenging for OUSD to return to hybrid in-person learning earlier than than the orange tier, unless there are more resources from the state and federal government. [Note: Some districts have begun opening without following these recommendations, and the CDC recently released guidelines saying that extensive testing is not necessary for reopening. OUSD will be reviewing its reopening plan based on these developments.] The Governor's plan to provide support for districts to reopen fizzled in the legislature. There are significant resources expected from the December federal relief bill, but they have not yet been sent to Oakland by the state.
If the Governor and the Legislature can agree on a new plan, that would likely impact our plan here in Oakland. The Governor promised to announce a new plan last week, but it has still not yet come out as I write this on Monday.
Statewide, about 79% of students are in distance learning right now (see map here). This is not to say that things should be this way, but to point out that the challenge is a statewide issue, and solutions will have to come from Sacramento as well as from within Oakland.
Finally, negotiations with the teachers' union, OEA, are continuing, but the current memorandum of understanding expired last Friday without a new deal. You can read the latest proposals from each side on the district website here.
For example, the district is still bargaining with the union to establish under what circumstances teachers can voluntarily return to in-person instruction, such as to support special education pods or the learning hubs that have been set up at several schools across the district as we begin to ramp up to wider in-person learning.
To address the learning loss of the past year, OUSD is planning a much larger summer program of hybrid in-person learning for those who want it, or distance learning for those who would prefer that option. Schools will be reaching out to families in March to find out which families want to enroll.
OUSD has also purchased 4,000 air purifiers and upgraded air filters across the district to ensure classrooms will have sufficient ventilation, has a warehouse filled with PPE, and is scaling up distance learning hubs at sites across Oakland.
As the vaccination rollout improves, infection rates should continue to drop, so I fully expect some form of hybrid instruction to begin at least at the elementary level and for special education students this spring, and at all levels in the summer and fall (with the option of distance learning for those who prefer it).
— We had an in-depth discussion of the proposed Reparations for Black Students resolution at our Feb. 10 board meeting, and will vote on Feb. 24. Many board members expressed interest in forming a community task force to prioritize and schedule next steps.
— I am hosting a District 1 Forum on Improving Enrollment in OUSD on Thursday, Feb. 25 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm - register here for the Zoom link. We will hear about initiatives to promote our schools, to increase diversity, and to separate our enrollment website from that of charter schools. For more on this topic, I recommend reading the recommendations from the Enrollment Working Group, the details of the Chabot pilot project, the presentation on Oakland in the Middle, and Director Gonzales's proposed Enrollment Stabilization Policy.
— OUSD is organizing a Literacy Summit & Family Workshop on Thursday, Feb. 18 from 4:30 to 6:00 pm. Read more details and register here.
Note: The above post was corrected on Feb. 17 to clarify that while the regular testing of staff is a requirement from the state, the regular testing of students in the purple and red tiers is only a recommendation, not a requirement, and the county has been approving some districts to move forward with reopening even without that testing in place.