Local East Bay school districts, under growing pressure from parents and politicians, have slowly been announcing their reopening plans. Oakland Unified will begin reopening schools beginning March 30, Berkeley Unified reached an agreement to reopen under a similar timeframe.
Emery Unified on the other hand, announced that they will not be reopening this school year and continue exclusively with “distance learning,” or remote instruction via videoconference software.
The recently built ECCL houses all of Emeryville’s three schools and is equipped with modern ventilation that has been a sticking point for some older buildings.
It also has an on-site clinic that could be leveraged for testing and vaccinations. Teachers and staff have been eligible for vaccinations since late February although there have been hiccups and no data was provided on the progress of vaccinating the entire staff.
Superintendent Scott Presents Reopening Plan
The Emery School Board met last week to review and discuss their proposed reopening plan presented by EUSD Superintendent Quiauna Scott. The presentation provided updates on the regional vaccination rollout, efforts by the state and the results of a family and staff survey capturing their sentiments on reopening.
According to Dr. Scott’s report, a majority of Elementary school-aged families expressed a desire to move to a “hybrid” learning model that involves a mixture of remote and in-person learning. Middle school and high school family responses were more evenly weighted with a slight preference toward distance learning for high school families.
61% of surveyed teachers responded that they would return to on-site instruction if a hybrid model was implemented.
The state has been incentivizing districts to reopen by providing grant funding through SB 86. To be eligible for the maximum amount of funding, districts would need to reopen elementary schools by April 15 or as soon as the level of Covid infections in district’s county declines to the “red tier.” Alameda County reached this tier back on March 10.
Superintendent Scott expressed concern over the logistics of accommodating two learning models and a dearth of substitute teachers in the likely event that they were needed. With approximately half of the student body being Interdistrict Transfers, and presumably coming from further distances, commuting was also a burden. Several weeks of the remaining school year would be consumed with state assessments as well as a week of spring break.
The toll and racial discrepancies on kids has been well established and so-called learning loss is a growing concern. A high percentage of the ECCL staff and families are among minority groups that have been disproportionally impacted by Covid.
Despite these metrics and incentives, the school board collectively expressed concern with the disruption to students and the logistics for parents. They voted unanimously to continue exclusively with distance learning through the end of the school year which ends on June 11.
Mixed Reaction from Parents
Some parents expressed relief at the decision, some were less than enthusiastic.
“To drive by the happy kids at the German school which is on EUSD property was an emotional gut punch,” noted one parent who preferred anonymity. “My concern is that white districts and private schools find a way. Kids in EUSD are already behind from the start and we enter a self perpetuating cycle now.”
The parent is referencing the East Bay German International School that reopened in January. The nearby NOCCS community charter school in North Oakland is actively working to reopen as soon as the county reaches the orange tier.
“I was starting to look forward to sending my kids back to school,” noted another ECCL parent Heather Moore-Farley. “The school building is newer and they’ve had to update ventilation anyway for the kids who are doing the learning hub, so I wasn’t worried about the site being ready.”
“I’m actually relieved,” noted ECCL parent Sarah Kobrinsky who expressed concern for their family small business should either her or her husband contract Covid. “Once all teachers and staff and ourselves are vaccinated, we are happy to send our son back.”
Their letter in its entirety is published below. The presentation of the reopening plan can be viewed below or watched above [1:30:15].
With a student-centered focus, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted last night to remain in distance learning.
EUSD recognizes that every community is unique and it is imperative to remain responsive to ours. Cited were concerns about the potential disruption to the instructional process (e.g., access to curriculum, potential changes in teachers and schedules), community input, and other factors. Community members spoke at last night’s meeting in support of remaining in distance learning and the hardship a hybrid model would have on our students and families. Many shared the need to maintain the connections and support our students have received from their teachers without program changes this late in the school year. At the same time, there was tremendous interest in determining how we can create in-person interactions for students to connect with their peers.
The District will continue to focus on increasing opportunities for students to participate in in-person experiences such as enrichment, athletics, end-of-year activities, and instructional opportunities, many of which have already begun with more plans on the horizon.
Anna Yates (TK-8) will continue to have the learning hub available for students to receive academic support in distance learning supervised by school staff. The District will also focus on developing a TK-12 in-person summer school program. The tentative dates are June 28 – July 23, 2021.
In closing, I want to thank our families and staff for supporting each other in these times of uncertainty with an unwavering focus on our students’ social-emotional well-being and academic success. We are better together and have a bright future ahead of us!