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Children attending school in person before the pandemic

OUSD announces school reopening plan

on December 4, 2020

Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell revealed the district’s plan to reopen schools in an email Tuesday, after weeks of feedback and discussion from teachers, parents and school staff.

“Our overall approach to reopening is based on the science and safety standards, and reaching agreements with our labor partners,” Johnson-Trammell said in the statement. “As conditions improve, the plan is likely to evolve.”

The plan calls for some students in preschool, kindergarten and elementary schools to return to classrooms on an alternating rotation in January. Classrooms will be limited to between eight and 10 students, with students being in-person at least two days of the week. Some special education and mental health enriched classrooms will also be permitted to reopen. 

The District’s target reopening date for special education and preschool through second grade students is Jan. 25, 2021. If the conditions allow, third through fifth graders will return to classes on Feb. 1.

Students and parents will still be given the opportunity to learn remotely if they so choose. 

“We need to be advocating for families that are at their wit’s end,” incoming District 1 School Board Director Sam Davis said in an interview with Oakland North last month. “We need to be advocating for more services for young people during the pandemic because they are very isolated and very under-engaged.” 

So far only five of the district’s more than 80 non-charter public schools have posted the required re-opening plans, Superintendent  Johnson-Trammell said in the email. According to the statement, only three of these schools currently have labor agreements allowing them to re-open. 

Schools also won’t be permitted to reopen if Alameda County remains in the “purple” tier, which is designated when a county averages more than seven positive COVID cases per 100,000 residents across a seven-day period. Alameda currently has an case rate of 9.1, adjusted for the lag in reporting time,

Also, all schools in the district will be closed for in-person learning if more than a quarter of schools are quarantined because of positive cases.  A school will be forced to close for in-person learning if two classroom sections are quarantined because of positive cases. The district will make school closure information available via an online public dashboard. 

Chaz Garcia, a Spanish bilingual teacher and union bargaining chair, said that she was disappointed that the district was trying to push ahead with reopening while COVID cases are spiking. 

“Other districts actually are looking around at what’s happening and saying we are going to not even talk about potentially coming back until March,” Garcia said. “In all honesty, I doubt that we’re going to find ourselves, whether we want to be in person or not, back in person this school year, just based on how this virus is behaving.” 

If there are more students who choose to participate in in-person learning than online for each staff member, the “A” group students would go to school on Monday and Tuesday, while “B” group students would come to class on Thursdays and Fridays.  If there are fewer students opting for in-person, that smaller single group would come to school on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, according to the plan. 

In October, district officials signed an agreement with Curative, Inc. to offer  COVID-19 testing for teachers. The reopening plan calls for 25% of school staff to be tested each week. 

If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, letters will be sent to close contacts, the community, custodial staff and the county. The infected person will be permitted to return to school 10 days after they experience their first symptom, so long as they are free of fever for at least one day and their symptoms are improving. If a student or staff member has close contact with someone who tests positive, they will be permitted to return to school 14 days after that close contact.

Schools will require face coverings for all students and staff, except while eating or drinking, or if staff are working in a room by themselves. Cloth masks will be provided for all students and staff by the district and face shields will be made available for staff members upon request. Students and staff are also being encouraged to each lunch outside and keep windows open, weather permitting. The plan also prevents students from using high touch areas, like drinking fountains and locker rooms. 

All staff members and students will also be required to complete a symptom screening checklist before entering campus, which asks whether household members have confirmed COVID diagnoses or are experiencing fever, cough, shortness of breath or other potential COVID symptoms.

Specified routes will be created in schools to ensure social distancing, such as one-way hallways, and class times will be staggered to avoid congestion. 

OUSD has more than 50,000 students and more than 2300 teachers across 126 schools. 

Elena Neale-Sacks contributed reporting. 

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Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: oaklandnorthstaff@gmail.com.

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