The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and its teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA), have come to an agreement on how distance learning will be implemented this year. OEA members ratified the agreement on Friday, August 21. While the formality of a school board vote remains to occur, it’s basically a done deal.
This is the first of several MOUs the district needs to negotiate with its labor unions before in-person learning can resume. OEA and OUSD will return to the bargaining table to negotiate an MOU on a return to in-person learning in about six weeks.
Two weeks into the school year, OEA members have been implementing its own “Strong Start” plan in lieu of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the district.
Educators and site administrators have been reaching out to families and conducting needs assessments, and there have been many challenges engaging students. According to Chief Systems Officer Preston Thomas, only 27,000 of OUSD’s 35,000 students were “engaged” the first week of school.
According to data released for this week’s school board meeting, there have been racial disparities in student engagement, along with disparities for unhoused, newcomer, and English Language Learner students.
While Asian and white students were able to participate in distance learning at a higher rate than the district average, Latinx students participated at about the district average while Black students were below the district average. English Language Learners, special needs, newcomer, foster care, and unhoused students were also significantly below the district average when it comes to participating in distance learning.
The Superintendent’s report also shows that only 62% of students/families have filled out the district’s online survey aimed at assessing technology needs within the district.
The tentative agreement was announced by both sides on August 12, but OEA leadership needed nine days to feel confident about calling for a ratification vote. OEA leadership says that some members were concerned about the ratio of “synchronous” live instruction with a teacher to “asynchronous” learning that could involve paper assignments, self-paced online learning platforms, or pre-recorded video instruction.
Ultimately, the district’s recent concession to allow the use of substitutes in order to implement small group instruction swayed a majority of OEA members to ratify the deal. The district is eligible for millions of dollars in CARES Act funding to pay for these substitutes, yet was unwilling to use substitutes until school resumed without an MOU. Assistance from substitutes is crucial in order to break down classes into smaller groups so that students can receive more individualized attention.
Other notable elements of the MOU include work site access for educators who need it, a flexible (between 9am and 3:15pm) work schedule, regular communication with families, and details on special education and learning interventions for students who need them.
“Our work does not stop with this MOU,” said OEA President Keith Brown. “We will continue to work to improve crisis distance learning and organize to get the funding and resources for a safe school reopening. We have an opportunity to make schools better than they were pre-COVID.”