teacher holds object up to her laptop camera
Oakland teacher Sara Shepich teaches class via her laptop in May 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown. Credit: Courtesy Sara Shepich

UPDATE: On Aug. 12, Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Education Association came to an agreement on distance learning for the fall semester. The teachers’ union voted to approve the contract on Saturday, Aug. 22 and began teaching to the contract on Aug. 24. Educators will work six hours and 10 minutes a day, and students will receive between six and 11 hours of live instruction per week, depending on grade level. High schoolers will receive the most instruction time. Teachers will also have one day a week, for the first six weeks of school, as an extra planning day. The contract does not outline how or when OUSD schools would reopen for in-person learning. Read the contract here.

The Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Education Association (OEA) teachers’ union have been locked in negotiations since July 9 about how the school year will start. Both sides recently released statements criticizing the other for not prioritizing students, or dragging on the debate. Meanwhile, time is running out.

On Monday, OEA members and allies participated in a rally at La Escuelita Elementary School and a car caravan protest to the district’s central office at 1000 Broadway. The rally-goers originally planned to take the caravan past superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell’s home, prompting a letter from the Oakland chapter of the NAACP condemning the action. On Thursday, union president Keith Brown called on the OUSD superintendent, Kyla Johnson-Trammell, to join the negotiations.

cars lined up along a street
Dozens of people participated in a car caravan and rally from La Escuelita Elementary School to OUSD’s downtown office at 1000 Broadway on Monday, Aug. 3. Credit: Courtesy Mike Hutchinson

Despite the disagreements, district spokesman John Sasaki said he is confident OUSD will be ready for school to start next week, and that distance learning in the fall will be better than it was in the spring. “We had to change on a dime. It was all new for everybody—for the district, for the staff, for the students—so it wasn’t as robust as we would’ve liked,” Sasaki said.

School starts  Aug. 10, meaning there’s just a few days to go for the district and teachers to reach an agreement. We’ve outlined the major remaining points of contention between the two sides for you below: 

When will schools reopen for in-person learning?

OEA’s position: The teachers’ union has proposed delaying school reopening until every zip code in Oakland has fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 residents. The city currently has a COVID-19 rate of about 1,103 per 100,000. In the latest OEA plan, teachers proposed distance learning for the entire fall semester and reviewing coronavirus data in December to determine whether to open schools for the spring semester.

OUSD’s position: The district’s initial plan was to reopen schools after a four-week distance learning period. Governor Gavin Newsom later released guidance restricting schools from opening if their counties were on the state’s coronavirus watch list—a list that currently includes Alameda County. Oakland schools will not be able to open until Alameda County has been off the list for two weeks. 

How long will teachers be teaching each day during distance learning?

Part of a teacher’s total workday includes instructional time when they’re actually teaching students. The rest of their day they’re planning, writing lessons, grading, or doing other types of work.

OEA’s position: The union proposed three hours of instruction for kindergarteners, 3 hours and 50 minutes for first through third graders, and four hours for fourth through 12th graders. Those limits are in line with the minimum times put forward in Senate Bill 98, the state bill that outlined requirements for distance learning. 

OUSD’s position: In the district’s most recent public proposal, educators would teach 3 hours and 30 minutes for kindergarteners, 4 hours and 15 minutes for first through third graders, and 4 hours and 45 minutes for fourth through 12th graders. 

How much teaching time will be “live” instruction (teaching on a video call, making phone calls to families, etc.)?

OEA’s position: One hour for kindergarteners, 1 hour and 55 minutes for first through third graders, and 2 hours for third through 12th graders.

OUSD’s position: The district proposed exactly half of the instruction time go toward live teaching: an hour and 45 minutes for kindergarteners, 2 hours and about 7 minutes for first through third graders, and about 2 hours and 22 minutes for fourth through 12th graders. 

How long will teachers work during distance learning?

OEA’s position: Teachers proposed a shorter work day of five hours.

OUSD’s position: Oakland Unified proposed having teachers work the same daily length of time they worked prior to the pandemic: 6 hours and 15 minutes for kindergarten through fifth grade teachers and six hours and 30 minutes for sixth through 12th grade teachers. 

How much time will teachers have to plan for the upcoming year?

OEA’s position: In the first two weeks of school, teachers would spend an hour each day with their students and the rest of their work day would be dedicated to preparing for the school year.

OUSD’s position: Teachers would have the first four Wednesdays of the school year dedicated to planning time, while the rest of the week would be for teaching students. 

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.