marquee outside oakland high school
The Oakland high school marquee reminds parents to register their children for school. Credit: Pete Rosos

Summer school options for Oakland Unified School District students are beginning to take shape. Concerned about learning loss, or skills that students have missed this year because of distance learning, schools everywhere are considering ways to strengthen summer school options, or even offer year-round school so students can get back on track. In Oakland, where schools have been closed for 11 months, distance learning had a shaky start, with the district scrambling to get laptops and wi-fi hotspots to students who needed them, teachers figuring out how to teach remotely, and parents adjusting to different school schedules—all while the COVID-19 pandemic impacted families’ employment, health, and living situations.  

“We go to our data to show where we have learning loss so that we can focus on the particular areas in which our students need more support,” said Sondra Aguilera, the district’s chief academic officer, during last week’s school board meeting.

Based on this data, OUSD’s plan is to focus on literacy and parent engagement for kindergarteners, algebra 1 and language arts for middle schoolers, and credit recovery for high school students. 

District leaders are aiming to serve 6,000 students in summer school this year, up from about 4,500 a year ago. Last summer’s program was also mainly virtual, but students were given the option of completing paper packets instead of working on their assignments online. School staff found, however, that parents and students were hesitant to sign up for more virtual learning after participating in it during the school year. In order to boost enrollment, OUSD’s plan for its 2021 summer learning program is to have an option for in-person instruction.

Families will be invited to sign up for summer school beginning next month, with priority given to English language learners, students in foster care, and unhoused youth. The summer school session will last four to six weeks, beginning in early June. Community organizations will also be working with the district to provide additional programming during summer school. 

But before the district’s summer school plan can be finalized it is subject to negotiations with the teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association. 

OEA and OUSD are also still bargaining over the possible reopening of schools for the current school year, which ends on May 27. Last week, the school district published the latest proposals from each group. While both the district and the teachers’ union appear to be aligned on providing small-group, in-person instruction along with continuing distance learning, they differ on what levels of coronavirus spread are safe enough to teach in person. 

Even after school buildings are reopened, all families will still have the option to continue distance learning. On Thursday, the district released a survey for elementary school families to indicate whether they’d prefer to remain in distance learning for the rest of the year or send their students for in-person learning.

The most recent proposal from the district would have vaccinated teachers return to the classroom immediately, as long as case rates in Alameda County remain below 25 per 100,000, which is consistent with the state’s school reopening guidelines. In-person instruction would be available to pre-kindergarteners through second graders, along with older students in specific groups that need extra support, like English learners or homeless students. 

The union’s latest proposal would allow vaccinated teachers to return for in-person instruction once case rates in Alameda County fall to 3.9 per 100,000 or lower, the state’s orange tier. They also disagree on testing frequency: The union has proposed testing every 2 weeks for teachers and students, while the district would align with state testing guidelines that recommend asymptomatic testing of staff every two weeks in higher tiers, and less frequent testing as case rates decline. 

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.