Following extensive negotiations between the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education (OUSD) and the Oakland Education Association (OEA), district officials have announced the approval of a full school reopening in the 2021-22 school year. Classes will begin on August 9 using the previously proposed block schedule, subject to any amendments made by the OUSD board of education. Although some parents hoping for a more expedient process have criticized both the district representatives as well as union reps for inhibiting late-year reopening, this plan has been widely approved by district stakeholder groups. Many associate the increased popularity for in-person instruction with the expanded supply of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine and proposed eligibility increases to include all High School students. Currently, all students age 16 and above are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. President Biden and the Food and Drug Administration are expected to approve vaccine access to 12-15 year olds in the coming weeks. OUSD student athletes have already begun conditioning and athletic matches against fellow OAL teams at Oakland Tech, which are expected to continue until the end of the athletic season.
This year, students in kindergarten and the first and second grade began in-person instruction on March 30, while the rest of OUSD elementary school students through the sixth grade began in-person instruction starting April 19. Additionally, priority students such as special needs youth who have opted in to attend in-person schooling. These students will continue a hybridized model for the rest of the year, including individualized learning programs focused on student support and social-emotional learning strategies. To limit virus transmission risks between students, they will be organized into small cohorts meeting for a few hours each week. Oakland’s expedited reopening process beginning on March 30 made the district eligible for a portion of the State of California’s two billion dollar schools reopening fund, which is expected to fund purchases of Personal Protective equipment or associated resources relevant to the school reopening process.
Many teachers are still reluctant to return to their classrooms due to questions about safety, viral exposure, and need. A lot of educators with an entirely online student body are required to teach from their classroom, which has been criticized as posing increased health risks without offering any significant benefit to the student body or educational staff. To address this issue, many have proposed or offered credits to staff members who return to on-campus instruction, and offered teachers with health restrictions or at-risk family members an extension of paid leave or online-continuation. Teachers with in-person classes or current cohorts of students have already returned to Oakland Tech for their classes, as are some preparing for Advanced Placement tests and graduation. In the coming weeks at the end of the school year, the district will announce additional information regarding the 2021-22 school year, mental health and social-emotional support plans for students at the beginning of the year, and additional miscellaneous education policies.