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Oakland School District, Teachers Scramble To Develop COVID Back-To-School Plan

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- Monday saw a slew of national protests across the country as teachers and administrators called for a safe return to schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"What we are demanding is the safe, equitable opening of our schools," said Mike Hutchinson with the Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN).

On Monday, OPEN led a car caravan around town to raise awareness about the fact that the Oakland Unified School District still hasn't made clear what the next year looks like.

"OUSD is set to reopen in seven days. There is no plan for how we are set to reopen," said Mark Hutchison with OPEN. "Our families have not been notified on what to do for the first day of school and our leadership has had four months to plan."

The district and the teachers' union were still negotiating that plan. Teachers want to cut the total time of instructions by at least an hour and fifteen minutes a day.

In the first week, only an hour of that would be actual instruction. The rest would be lesson planning. They also want scheduled wellness time for teachers.

The negotiations have been going back and forth for a while. OUSD has been waiting until it has reached an agreement with the teachers to release a detailed plan to reopen schools.

District spokesman John Sasaki is hopeful that an agreement will come soon.

"This is one of those situations where there is some disagreement. Both sides want what they want and we are going to see where we can meet in the middle," said Sasaki.

But some teachers say finding that middle ground doesn't matter unless all the students have the tools they need for remote learning.

"They don't even have the computers for the kids and the computers they're going to get and the programs they're going to get are English only and not appropriate for lots and lots of students," said Peter Brown, a teacher.

"This is a failure of leadership and this coalition will not tolerate this failure anymore," said Hutchison, who is also running for the school board. "We are demanding safe schools, healthy schools and equitable schools."

It's a lofty goal everyone can get behind, but Sasaki says the solution is not that simple.

"I do know that our teaching staff is making sure that we approach distance teaching and learning in the best way possible in these circumstances," Sasaki told KPIX. "This is a challenge for schools across the country and we are all trying to find the best way forward."

A teacher told KPIX, if there's no agreement, they will still teach under her union's guidelines in what's called a Strong Start program. It would mean an hour devoted to group or individual learning. The rest will be spent to get to know the students and their family circumstances, followed by ways to improve distance learning.

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