Two girls in a pool holding onto the side with their heads under water.
Two children in the water at East Oakland Sports Center on Edes Avenue during the city of Oakland’s Town Camp + Swim program. Credit: Florence Middleton

It used to be that August was prime summertime for Oakland school kids. For many, those halcyon days now seem like a distant memory.

This Monday, Aug. 7, more than 34,000 students will return to campuses across Oakland for the start of the 2023-2024 school year. With nearby school districts like Berkeley, San Francisco, and Alameda all starting at least a week later than Oakland Unified, we decided to look into why. 

How is the OUSD school calendar decided?

The school-year calendar is negotiated each year between OUSD and the Oakland Education Association teachers union, and is also agreed to by OUSD’s other labor unions, said Ismael Armendariz, the president of OEA. Discussions about the following year’s calendar typically begin in December, and OUSD presents a proposed calendar to OEA as a starting point. 

There are several factors that district and union leaders must consider: The school year must have 180 instructional days and 186 total working days for district employees while also incorporating winter and spring breaks, and holidays. Once the district and union agree on the calendar, it must then be approved by the school board, which usually happens in the spring prior to the following school year. 

Why was the school calendar changed, and when?

Prior to 2018, Oakland Unified School District started school towards the end of August. In those years, the fall semester extended into January, which meant that students didn’t take their fall semester exams until they came back to school after winter break. 

It also meant that high schoolers had less instructional time in the spring before Advanced Placement tests, which are scheduled by the College Board and taken on the same dates all across the country, in early May. 

Additionally, OUSD teachers are paid on a 10-month schedule. When school started later in August, it meant that although teachers worked in August, they weren’t paid until September.

An earlier start also benefits dual enrollment students—high schoolers taking courses at the Peralta community colleges—since it gives them more time to enroll and meet their college class deadlines. 

In 2017, OUSD revisited the school calendar, including the first day of school, to address some of those concerns. 

A survey that went out to families that year found that a clear majority—two-thirds of respondents—were not in favor of an earlier start date (Aug. 13 was the date proposed at the time). And some parents raised concerns about disrupted vacation and travel plans, and how warm it would be in classrooms in mid-August.

However, when asked if they would favor an earlier start if it allowed students to take fall semester exams in December, before winter break, and allow more time for credit recovery, a majority of respondents were either in favor or neutral. 

After several community engagement meetings, the school board in March 2018 approved an earlier start date of Aug. 13 for the 2018-2019 school year, a little more than a week earlier than the Aug. 21 start date for the 2017-2018 year. 

Since then, the first day of school has moved steadily earlier, with this year’s Aug. 7 start date being the earliest so far. 

The calendar for the 2024-2025 school year has not yet been decided.

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.