Oakland Unified submits reopening plan to Alameda County; union says 'unrealistic'

Oakland Unified submitted its reopening plan this week to Alameda County in the hopes of allowing some students back to class beginning on Jan. 25, but the proposal is also contingent on bargaining with the teachers union as well as the number of coronavirus cases now surging through the country. 

According to the plan, pre-K through 2nd-graders would come back first and upper grades would return in the following weeks. 

Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell wrote that the district has started negotiating the impacts of the phased-in reopening approach with the teachers’ union, the OEA, starting with in-person small cohorts. 

"Finally, now more than ever, we recognize the need to establish more nontraditional ways of including the diverse voices of parents, caregivers, and families across Oakland," she wrote. "This too, will be a critical part of the process over the coming weeks."

The reopening plan also follows recommendations that the first students to return should be those for whom distance learning is truly not working, Johnson-Trammell said, which includes students with low attendance and skill regression in special education. 

California allows schools to reopen when they make it to the red tier for two weeks. OUSD would reopen if Alameda County makes it to the orange tier, which is stricter than the state guidance for reopening. Alameda County is currently purple.

Within the last few months, teachers in Alameda County, including from Oakland, ticked off a list of items they wanted to be completed before they return to school in person. The list includes frequent, on-site COVID-19 testing, proper ventilation, and online dashboard reporting cases, outbreaks and quarantines. 

Oakland teachers' union bargaining chair Chaz Garcia said that all these plans are just that: Ideas. The virus is surging, she said, and no one is at the bargaining table.

"I don't believe we'll meet the criteria," she said. "I don't see it happening any time soon. January seems unrealistic." 

She said that she admires the schools in San Bernadino County, which said they're not going back in person this year.

"What they did was take the focus on 'Are we going back?' to 'What are we doing now?'" Garcia said. "Then the focus is on how to present the best possible version of distance learning." 

The timing of OUSD's plan comes a day after a group of seven families filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court, alleging the state has not provided adequate distance learning for students, especially low-income students of color.