Increasing COVID testing for students and teachers – district leaders must act tonight

The stakes are higher than ever for students and families right now. Concerns about safety, mental health, and the need to jumpstart student learning are real. Educators and school leaders are exhausted as they try to keep students safe and learning. The time for true leadership from the school board is NOW. In the last meeting, board members engaged in politics and performance instead of thoughtful debate and decision-making. Tonight our school board directors must talk to each other, carefully consider the tradeoffs of the decisions we face as a community, and come to agreements for the sake of Oakland families – lives are on the line. Here’s the big items that the board will be discussing tonight on Zoom. 

For more, click here for the full agenda.

You can join the meeting through the Zoom meeting by clicking on this link at 5:30pm or by calling (669) 900-9128, then entering the Webinar ID  869 3032 8873, then pressing “#”.

Item #21-1889

Currently, OUSD is offering testing at 10 school sites across Oakland and staff is required to be fully vaccinated or get tested weekly. Earlier this month, Board Director Hutchinson introduced a policy that would require ALL school sites to offer weekly testing for students and staff regardless of their vaccination status. This policy also does not require students and staff to take the test unless it is recommended pursuant to public health guidance.

Board Vice President Director Sam Davis recently stated that “weekly testing… could mean sacrificing for now the crucial rapid response teams and the regional testing hubs due to current test supply shortages.” Tonight, he will be proposing the following amendments to this policy:

  • Biweekly (instead of weekly) testing for all, while continuing to prioritize rapid response to test exposed individuals twice a week starting immediately after exposure.
  • Expanding the hours of the hubs for people who urgently need testing due to symptoms or other reasons.
  • Once OUSD’s testing program is stronger and supplies are more available, they can build capacity further to weekly testing for all.

Safety of students, families, and staff must remain a top priority. It is clear that more testing across the city is needed given the rising COVID cases. Currently, the State is unable to provide this volume of tests and, thus, the District would need to contract directly with test providers to ensure an adequate supply – at least 8,000 per week. District resources (staff, tests, money) are limited and the Board must carefully weigh the trade-offs of different approaches to increase testing. Districts like Berkeley Unified and San Francisco Unified are currently offering weekly testing at their school sites. Does OUSD have sufficient staff to carry out weekly school site testing? Do they need to amend staff contracts in order to allow certain staff to administer tests?  How will they procure more tests? Tonight, we urge the school board to have an honest conversation about these trade-offs and direct the district to increase testing in a responsible way.

Items #21-189021-1991

The District is offering a distance learning option (independent study) with Sojourner Truth, which is its own separate school. Students must transfer to Sojourner Truth in order to participate in independent study (distance learning), which means students would no longer be enrolled in their “in-person” schools as they cannot be enrolled in two schools at the same time. Tonight the Board will be discussing two proposals that would make it easier for students who opt for distance learning now to return to their previous schools. 

Board Director Mike Hutchinson is proposing that a student enrolled in Sojourner Truth is able to transfer back to their “in-person” school consistent with the following parameters:

  • A student shall be able to transfer back to their “in-person” school at any time during the 2021-22 and for the start of the 2022-23 school year
  • A student’s “in-person” school shall be the OUSD school in which they were enrolled prior to transferring to Sojourner Truth
  • No other students may be permitted to transfer into the “in-person” school if it would prohibit a student enrolled in Sojourner Truth from transferring back to their “in-person” school

Board Director VanCedric Williams is proposing that students enrolled in Sojourner Truth are added to the enrollment priority list as follows:

Students would still be allowed to return to their in-person school this year – but only if there is space in the school just like regular transfers in previous years.  If their school is already fully enrolled, they will have to wait until the formal enrollment process in the spring for the 2022-23 school year using the added enrollment priority above.  

Students and families should not face consequences for making a decision rooted in safety and opting for distance learning. Yet, what makes this complicated is the state-level policy that doesn’t allow students to be enrolled in two schools at the same time. It is unclear how Director Hutchinson’s proposal addresses that challenge. Director Williams’ proposal would address that however it only gives preference to families to re-enroll next year and does not guarantee them a seat.  

Item #21-2015

The Citywide Plan is a multi-year plan to address issues of quality, equity, and sustainability in the District, in part by closing or consolidating schools so that the District operates fewer, better resourced schools, and supporting school improvement across the District. Two cohorts of OUSD schools have already undergone expansions, redesigns, mergers or closures under the Citywide Plan. A list of Cohort 3 schools is supposed to be presented for approval by September 2021. 

Tonight, Board Vice President Sam Davis is proposing a resolution to:

  • Further delay release of an action on Cohort 3 from September 2021 to September 2022 and delay any merger and/or closure to Fall 2023 (as opposed to Fall 2022).
  • Between merger and closures, the Superintendent shall recommend mergers where possible and closures if necessary.
  • Request additional analysis and direct that community engagement efforts should begin in January 2022.
  • Direct the Superintendent to present proposed budget reductions for Board action by October and to present additional budget analysis.
  • Commits the Board to finding and approving budget solutions for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 fiscal years to ensure the long-term fiscal solvency of the District by adopting budget-balancing solutions by the adoption of the 2022-23 budget.

The district remains in a cycle of year-after-year budget cuts. Despite the current infusion of one-time COVID relief funds, OUSD still anticipates the need to cut ~$56 from next year’s budget to remain fiscally solvent. Delaying more structural changes, such as this proposal to postpone Cohort 3 Decisions will only kick the can down the road. The Board must follow through on their commitment to balance the budget and identify long-term solutions that will address the historical structural deficit.

Items #21-178821-1787

Every school year, the Superintendent and the Board of Education(BOE) propose their top priorities for the year. The Superintendent and Board’s priorities are typically aligned and contain a list of associated metrics and deliverables. This year’s plans are also closely aligned with the 2021-23 Superintendent Strategic Plan. The plan lays out a set of key deliverables for this school year from the Superintendent and the Board, including:

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