Oakland School District and Union Reach Deal to Reopen Some Schools by End of March

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Oakland students entering Castlemont High School on Feb. 3, 2021 for football practice. Oakland schools reached a tentative agreement with the teachers union to reopen some classrooms for in-person instruction before the end of March, starting with the youngest students. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Following weeks of negotiations, leaders from Oakland's school district and its teachers union reached a tentative deal Sunday to allow some younger students to return to in-person classes by the end of the month.

Under the first phase of the agreement, in-person classes would resume March 30 for pre-K through second grade, and for "priority students" of all grades — those considered at-risk — whose parents have indicated they want to send them back to school. Classes will include a combination of distance and in-person learning options for four days a week. The fifth day will be remote for all students.

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Third through fifth graders, and possibly one additional grade, would be able to return to school on April 19.

Families also have the option to have their children continue with full-time distance learning through the remainder of the school year.

"Bottom line is this is something we're very excited about," Oakland Unified School District spokesperson John Sasaki said. "I know it's been a long time coming, and a lot of our families have wanted to be back for quite a while. Everybody whose family wants them to stay home can remain at home."

The deal won't become official until it's approved by members of the Oakland Education Association — who are expected to vote on it this week — and then passed by the OUSD board.

The district said it is offering financial incentives of $200 per week to teachers who come back right away, as well as a one-time $2,000 stipend for all OEA members who return next month.

Teachers in the first phase who choose to opt in would return to campus on March 25 to prepare for the transition. Teachers in the second phase would return to campus on April 14.

The district noted that campuses will operate at limited capacity, in accordance with public health guidance, to maintain physical distancing.

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"This is a critical step forward for our students, families and staff, as we all can now see the light at the end of the tunnel of this year-long ordeal," OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a district press release. "I want to express my deepest appreciation to our teachers for working so hard to get us to this point and supporting their students through distance learning."

Union officials echoed her remarks in the same release.

"We reached a tentative agreement that is just, equitable, and most importantly, safe," said Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association. "We believe that phasing in student return on April 19 allows all educators to complete their vaccinations, if they so choose, and for California's targeted vaccination program to reach our most vulnerable communities."

Despite the approval of union leaders, opposition to the agreement has already formed among some teachers and community members.

Even before the district announced the deal, a group calling itself the Equal Opportunity Now/By Any Means Necessary Caucus called a virtual press conference for 5 p.m. Monday to urge teachers to reject the agreement.

The group's press statement said it opposes any reopening of schools while transmission rates of COVID-19 are still high.

This article includes reporting from KQED's Sara Hossaini and Bay City News.