March 2021 Newsletter

Updates on the Return to In-Person Instruction

There is light at the end of the tunnel. As we approach the anniversary of the pandemic shutdown, I know it has been an extremely difficult year, between the loss of life that has struck so many families, and the isolation that has hit us all. 

The pace of negotiations between OEA and OUSD had slowed down for a while, but it has picked up in the past week, and will move further now that Gov. Newsom signed AB 86 yesterday. This new law prioritizes vaccines for educators and incentivizes California schools to return to some in-person instruction by April 1 for our most vulnerable students, and all students in grades TK-5 whose families want it. 

The plan and the return date in Oakland are still pending negotiations, and I am expecting there to be significant developments to announce next week. However, I want to give the following updates now, which are keeping me hopeful in this challenging time:

  • Due to dropping infection rates, Alameda County will very likely move from the purple to the red tier next Tuesday.

  • Many Oakland Unified staff have received their first dose of the vaccine. Those who have not can now request a one-time code from HR to get their shot at the Coliseum. The new one-shot vaccine will be coming to Alameda County next week.

  • The School Readiness Dashboard shows progress by school site on the steps taken to prepare for in-person instruction, including the delivery of 2 air purifiers to every classroom to provide sufficient ventilation.

  • Facilities personnel will be setting up over 30 outdoor classrooms at sites across Oakland in the coming weeks that have been flagged for insufficient indoor space. We are grateful to the parent from Emerson Elementary who built the playbook for this!

  • Over 90% of families in TK through 5th grade completed the survey due March 2 (thanks to dedicated staff making thousands of phone calls to families who don’t use email), which showed that over 53% of families intend to bring their students back for in-person instruction, with others wishing to remain in distance learning only.

In terms of planning ahead for the 2021-22 school year, we hope to be back 100% full-time, with masking and ventilation safety measures, but are also working on hybrid planning in case infection rates persist due to the virus variants. So we are hoping for the best, but planning for the worst, as we should.

The good news we already have for next year is that Oakland Unified will be receiving a massive infusion of federal and state funds for pandemic relief, at least $84 million in one-time funding not counting the bill currently in Congress. 

At a special March 16 Board meeting, we will be discussing how to use these funds for mental health, socio-emotional learning, extensive academic intervention and student support to address the past year’s learning loss, as well as for reducing chronic absence, canceling any budget cuts to schools for next year, and other projects.

Some have asked why reopening plans have not been listed on the Board agenda. Since much of it is subject to labor negotiations, we have been discussing it in closed session, most recently last Wednesday for over two hours, so rest assured that my colleagues and I are taking this issue very seriously.


Resolution for Reparations for Black Students

At the last Board meeting, this resolution (which you can read here) came up for a vote, and I supported amendments that I believed would move the work forward as quickly as possible. This upset advocates who wanted the original language passed as written, so the following day I met with a member of the coalition to understand the miscommunications that had occurred. 

The day after that, protesters came to my house, and I clarified to them that I plan to support the resolution when it returns to the Board on March 24. I also encouraged them to work with the Superintendent and her staff on implementation planning before that meeting, and have offered to participate in that process if I can be of assistance.

My next District 1 forum, on Monday, March 15 from 5:30 to 7:00, will be on Initiatives to Support African-American Students, so that the community can hear about some of the work currently happening in the district and some of the proposals to improve it. You can get the Zoom information by registering at this link.

District 1 Schools in the News

A great article in Oaklandside highlighted the work that Sankofa United has done to welcome the Kaiser families and teachers into its school community, and to reach out to preschools and young families in the neighborhood so the school will continue to grow next year.

The documentary We Are The Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest, which features a family and teacher from Piedmont Ave. Elementary School, was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. If you haven’t seen this amazing film, and would like something uplifting in these trying times, watch it for free at this link.


New Online School Library

Thanks to the Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries for bringing us Sora, an app for checking out books for children and teens. It’s similar to the Oakland Public Library app, but with more availability of popular kids’ titles to reduce wait times. Check it out with your students!

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  • Sam Davis