Oakland Unified and teachers union reach tentative deal for in-person learning for youngest students

Oakland schools will begin reopening before the end of March, after leaders from the teachers' union and the school district reached a deal Sunday after weeks of negotiations.

The tentative agreement -- which won't become official unless it is first approved by the Oakland Education Association and then passed by the Oakland Unified School District board -- also preserves the option for students to remain in distance learning.

The first phase of the agreement has in-person classes resuming March 30 for pre-kindergarten through grade 2 and priority students, with the second phase resuming April 19 for grades 3-5 and at least one secondary grade to be determined later.

Many parents had been clamoring for classes to return to campus.

"My kids are suffering from being depressed, anxious and overall feeling hopeless about the place they live," parent Allison Stockman said before the deal was reached. 

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The district announced the tentative agreement late Sunday night just before midnight in a press release. The union is expected vote on the agreement this week and, if approved, would then go before the district school board for its vote.

The agreement allows families to keep their students in distance learning if they prefer. Few other details of the agreement were included in the district statement.

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

The district noted that campuses will operate at a limited capacity due to public health guidance to maintain physical distancing.

"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," said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, in statement included in the 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, as quoted in the same press 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 by Any Means Necessary Caucus called a virtual press conference for 5 p.m. Monday to call on 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.

KTVU contributed to this report.