OUSD’s Back to School Plans

empty classroom and desks with one n95 mask
Photo by Marco fileccia via Unsplash

School starts next week, and the district has shared its plans for both COVID safety and supporting the mental well-being of students. In a recorded webinar, OUSD staff members share the overall plans and what parents and students might plan to expect.

In the last year and a half, kids spent the majority of the time at home distance learning. Some kids started going back last spring for a few weeks on a limited basis (the “hybrid” model). The district also assisted in bringing on very limited number of students who needed extra help.

With the Delta variant and COVID spreading in Oakland and the larger Bay Area, some parents even wondered if school will even open next Monday, as is the announced plan. According to the district, yes.

Unlike last spring, there will be no hybrid model; parents either choose 100 percent in-person, or 100 percent independent study/distance learning. Masking is required while indoors, and physical distancing will not be required due to lack of space. The details of how the district plans to use other measures, such as COVID testing, are below.

I checked in with OUSD’s Senior Director of Strategic Projects, Sailaja Suresh, for more details.

Will every school have take-home COVID tests for families? Are these Binax tests?

Every school will have a limited number of at-home Abbott BinaxNOW testing kits at the start of the school year. We have partnered closely with the state to co-design and support our COVID testing program, and they will be providing OUSD with more at-home testing kits as our community begins to use the tests and submit their test results.

It will be especially important in the first week or two of school to demonstrate our community’s commitment to using the at-home testing kits that are distributed, so that the state can order more at-home testing kits and distribute a greater supply to our OUSD schools. We would love to see the state expand this program in Oakland and across the state.

Will teachers or staff do temperature checks at the schools every day, or will it be based on an honor system (i.e. parents will need to check)? I also remember that when we went back in the spring, there was the online health check that parents filled out on the phone; will that still be in place?

No, daily temperature checks are not recommended by the state or county, and that was true in the spring as well. 

We still have the online health check system set up in ParentSquare for students and for staff. The daily health screenings are required by CalOSHA for staff members, but not required for students by CDPH, so we will not be excluding students who do not do the daily health screener in ParentSquare, and we will be using it as a tool to track timelines and our case monitoring for students who are symptomatic or exposed. 

How often will teachers and staff be tested (i.e. will it be on a regular schedule)?

Unvaccinated individuals, including teachers, staff, and students, are recommended to test 1-2 times per week. Anybody who develops COVID symptoms or has been exposed to a COVID-positive individual will also be recommended for testing. We are not mandating testing or disciplining any individual for not getting tested in accordance to this recommended cadence set by the state.

If we do have a positive case and have to implement the state’s Modified Quarantine guidance, we will require testing of those students who were Prolonged Close Contacts 2x a week for 2 weeks following exposure, or ask that those students quarantine at home for the full 10 days following exposure.

I understand that there will be a focus on social and emotional well-being of students as they transition back to school. Can you share more specifics of what this might look like? And also, if some students are behind in science, math, reading, or any other subjects, what kind of support is available?

Yes, we are embracing the model of a Restorative Restart, which really came from community groups in Oakland and around the state. Some examples of what this looks like are: universal screeners for mental health needs, so we are really ensuring that all of our students are getting the mental health supports they may need; increased tutoring services to ensure that students are also getting the academic support they need to address any unfinished learning needs. Many schools prioritized the hiring of additional teachers and staff to provide these new, much-needed supports for this year.

Author Profile

Momo Chang is a freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the Oakland Voices Co-Director. Her work focuses on healthcare, immigration, education, Asian American communities, food and culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Momo has received journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for investigative reporting and the Asian American Journalists Association, among others. Her work has appeared in the East Bay Express, San Francisco Chronicle, Wired, and The New York Times. Momo is primarily a print journalist who also produces audio and visual stories for documentary film and radio. She is a Senior Contributing Editor for Hyphen and formerly the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).

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