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COVID-19: Oakland Teachers, School District Tentatively Agree To March 30 Return To Classrooms

OAKLAND (CBS SF/BCN) -- Oakland schools will begin reopening before the end of March, after leaders from the teachers' union and the school district reached a deal Sunday after weeks of negotiations.

The tentative agreement -- which won't become official unless it is first approved by the Oakland Education Association and then passed by the Oakland Unified School District board -- also preserves the option for students to remain in distance learning.

The first phase of the agreement has in-person classes resuming March 30 for pre-kindergarten through grade 2 and priority students, with the second phase resuming April 19 for grades 3-5 and at least one secondary grade to be determined later.

"We're not going to be back to a normal school environment for a while, but it's going to be a lot more normal with everyone back in class," John Sasaki, spokesperson for the Oakland Unified School District, said at a press conference Monday morning.

Sasaki told reporters that per the agreement, students intending to return will attend class in an AABBC system: students in the AA group will be at school Monday and Tuesday, while students in the BB group will attend on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Students in the C group are those who choose to stay in a remote-learning situation. School instruction will be taught in three-hour shifts.

"It's not going to be everybody all at once," Sasaki said. "There has to be distance so everyone can be safe."

The district announced the tentative agreement late Sunday night just before midnight in a press release. The union is expected vote on the agreement this week and, if approved, would then go before the district school board for its vote.

The agreement allows families to keep their students in distance learning if they prefer. Few other details of the agreement were included in the district statement.

It was news many parents were waiting to hear in Oakland. According to OUSD, 58 percent of parents wanted a return to in person learning.

"We're excited to get back to some semblance of normal," said parent Chuck Norris. "There is a little trepidation, we want the teachers to be safe, students to be safe but we feel like there's been some light at the end of the tunnel."

Norris and his son Michael have been waiting for any news the District would open back up to in person learning. As a 7th grader at Hillcrest Middle School though, Michael's wait continues.

"But I was like when are we going back. I haven't heard anything about when we are going back and that's kind of confusing," he said.

Teachers in the first phase who choose to opt-in would return to campus March 25 to prepare for the transition. Teachers in the second phase would return to campus April 14.

Sasaki also noted that teachers who return to class will receive bonuses. Any teacher volunteering to come back on March 25 will get a stipend of $200 a week. Starting April 14, when all teachers are expected to come back, they will receive a one-time, $2,000-stipend.

Partially motivating the deal is not just parents, teachers and students miss being in class -- "Everyone in our district misses our kids," Sasaki said -- is school funding. If Oakland schools don't open again by April 1, they start losing 1% of its budget every school day following.

"Money is certainly in the back of our minds," Sasaki said.

The district noted that campuses will operate at a limited capacity due to public health guidance to maintain physical distancing.

"This is a critical step forward for our students, families and staff, as we all can now see the light at the end of the tunnel of this year-long ordeal," said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, in statement included in the press release. "I want to express my deepest appreciation to our teachers for working so hard to get us to this point and supporting their students through distance learning."

Union officials echoed her remarks, as quoted in the same press release.

"We reached a tentative agreement that is just, equitable, and most importantly, safe," said Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association. "We believe that phasing in student return on April 19 allows all educators to complete their vaccinations, if they so choose, and for California's targeted vaccination program to reach our most vulnerable communities."

Despite the approval of union leaders, opposition to the agreement has already formed among some teachers and community members.

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