Oakland Unified schools begin academic year with distance learning

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Classes in Oakland began online today with mixed reviews and without an agreement between the school district and the teachers union on how distance learning should proceed. We spoke to teachers and parents about what worked and what could improve.

"It was a mild disaster," said Oakland parent Reginald Mosley. His three children had a hard time connecting on Zoom with their teachers and classmates because of connectivity problems, eventually, two of them did.

"None of the Chromebooks worked on my WiFi and it could be because I had so many other things on the wifi, just didn't have the bandwidth so I was going around trying to shut everything off," added Mosley.

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Sayuri Sakamoto is a special education teacher. She has 12 students but only 5 showed up online this morning. Three of her students either didn't have a laptop or their device wasn't working. What she struggled with the most was taking attendance.

"Attendance now, the letter 'B' as in boy means absent, the letter 'E' means engaged and then there are two other codes I don't even know what they are, but as you are trying to take attendance you're like wait, where's the 'A' for absent, where's the 'P' for present? asked Sakamoto.

She worked from home, but Oakland teachers also have the option to work on-site, in their classrooms.

The Principal of Sankofa Elementary School said he watched one kindergarten class meeting Monday morning. He said the teacher came prepared and the kids were engaged.

"We are really happy to see kids, to see families and it's super sad that it's virtual. Kids miss that opportunity to be together, to play, to touch, to hug, to check-in and we can't be together in person. But we all understand the reasons why. And we have come together as a community to make our first day of school a special day," said Principal Dennis Guikema.

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He said it still looked like a typical kindergarten class.

"We saw, while wiggly like kindergartners are, they were very engaged. One showed up in a tiara. One in a superhero costume. One played with her mom's hair the whole time. Yet they were still really engaged," Guikema said.
He went on to say, "We had a couple Wi-Fi problems but we worked through it. Overall the vibe was really positive."

The district is still working to make sure everyone has computers.

"We know that some of our students don't have computers. I'd say the majority of those who need them do have them because they got them in the Spring but this week we are still distributing loaner devices until we get the Oakland Unified devices in hand and ready to distribute later this month," Sasaki said.

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Even though classes started today the district has yet to agree with the teachers union on how many hours of live instruction will be finally delivered. Negotiations started late, on July 6.

"We are looking forward to seeing our union partners at the table today," said district spokesperson John Sasaki Monday morning. "There are differences in what we are hoping for and what our union partners are hoping for. Bottom line is, we are hoping to have our teachers and staff in front of our students a little bit more in a live, synchronous education that our kids need."
The district and the union have not said what they are each asking for or how far apart they are. The two sides have been negotiating for about four weeks. Until there is an agreement, officials say students can expect about an hour of live instruction a day.

The union is asking that substitute teachers be used to help with small group instruction. They are also requesting more flexibility for teachers with children at home who are also learning online.
"Everyone in my household needs to be online at 9 a.m. according to our schedules this year which means I am going to have to assist my 9-year-old get online, help her while I'm also teaching," said Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu during a zoom call with other teachers.

Both sides are now hoping to finalize an agreement by early this week.

The district also resumed the grab-n-go meal program Monday, making free meals available to those who rely on them during the school day.

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