Oakland will begin school year with distance learning, move to phased return to classrooms

The Oakland Unified School District announced its plans for the new school year on Friday. The fall semester is set to begin on August 10, and no students will be in classrooms.  
During a virtual news conference, OUSD officials said all students will learn remotely for up to four weeks.  Then, some will be phased back into the classroom, starting with those with the highest needs. “The transition into blending learning phase will depend on specific science, safety, student learning and support details," siad John Sasaki, spokesperson for OUSD. 
In-person learning will first occur among students who have the greatest needs, such as students in foster care and homeless students. "At this point, we feel the best course of action is to open with distance learning, then transition to a blended model in which we can get our students and staff back together," Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement.   
Elementary school students will be the next group to be brought into a physical classroom, OUSD spokesman John Sasaki said in a news conference with reporters Friday evening. Science shows that youth of that age are less likely to transmit the new coronavirus, he said.
Between now and Aug. 10, school officials and others such as teachers will figure out how to progress to more and more in-person instruction, he said. Also, school officials are working out the details for student instruction for families whose parents work, but a specific plan is not in place yet.

Thousands of computers are on order for students who need them, Sasaki said. The district is working with a Salesforce-based software development firm to help determine who needs a computer. Students who are borrowing a Chromebook can continue to use that until the new computers are available through the Oakland Undivided campaign.

That loan program may be expanded to other groups, such as new students, according to district officials. Sasaki said it is unlikely the new computers will be available before the school year starts because of supply line issues. 
Part of the first month will be focused on implementing safety and hygiene protocols including training for teachers.  “I think it’s a victory for students and parents and staff of Oakland, it’s the only safe thing," said Mark Airgood, a special education teacher in the district.
The decision was cheered by Airgood and a group of OUSD staff members who held a car caravan this week, demanding schools remain closed. District officials said this was not an easy decision because they had heard mixed responses from parents. District officials said they're working with health experts and unions to work out further details.  

In a letter to the Governor, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, the state's largest teacher union, California Teachers' Association wrote "simply said, California cannot reopen schools unless they are safe." 
OUSD parent Wilson Buckley appreciates the focus on safety, but wants to see more details. “I don’t see any mention of testing, what’s going to happen if a kid’s sick, how’s that going to affect the kids in the class, how’s it going to affect the teacher," said Buckley. 
School district leaders are holding a town hall meeting Monday at 5 p.m. to share more information about the new school year. The meeting can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/OUSDlive.  

Bay City News contributed to this report.